Freedom Tower, Downtown Manhattan, photo by David W. Shelton

Freedom Tower, Downtown Manhattan, photo by David W. Shelton

Back in May of this year, I stood in front of the September 11, 2001 Memorial Museum in downtown Manhattan and I was (and still am) in awe of the majesty of this tower. It stands as a testament to American determination, strength, and innovation. At either side of where I stood, the waterfall wells of the original Twin Tower footprints gave a fitting tribute to everyone that lost their lives.

It also represents (to me, anyway) the backbone of our national spirit. Rising 1776 feet, it’s a clear symbol for all of us. The sheer horror of the attacks was so perfectly shown in the museum, giving the completion of this tower an image of victory over fear.

In the days that followed the attacks, the USA was probably the most patriotic nation on earth.

It was a time when we had a President that knew that our Muslim friends and neighbors were just as shocked and horrified as the rest of us. He admonished all of us that their religion was hijacked by evil men. Evil men will do evil deeds. And they did.

Today, we have forgotten this, and we regularly hear hateful and fearful comments about Muslims, gays, and anyone different. It’s a staggeringly horrific place to be as a society.

Freedom Tower is a symbol of pride and victory over fear. Yet we have forgotten its lessons. We have forgotten that patriotism includes dissent. We have forgotten that standing silent in protest is just as patriotic as singing along with the Star Spangled Banner, belting it out while waving a tiny flag.

We are a nation with different opinions about almost everything, but we were once unified in our love for country. The secret truth is that we are all still unified in our love for America. We just differ on how we should go forward.

Remembering American Values

The Slurry Wall in the 9/11 Memorial Museum, Photo by David W. Shelton

The Slurry Wall in the 9/11 Memorial Museum, Photo by David W. Shelton

Sadly, there are those who believe that their success must be on the backs of those they view as beneath them: women, people of color, non-Christian religions, and the LGBT community. They have distorted their own reality and have even convinced themselves that these minorities want to wipe them out, with a fearful notion that voting rights, marriage rights, or even religious freedom… must be at the expense of those who still face the boot of prejudice and fear at every turn.

They have lost their way. They shout out chants that “you will not replace us,” and do all they can to strike the same fear into the hearts of minorities… that they have FOR minorities.

It is truly the American spirit to embrace our differences and celebrate them. Out of many, we are one. Unity is not uniformity. We worship differently, look different, and love differently from each other. We don’t all speak English. We hail from all over the world, a nation of immigrants and a home for nomads.

Love is greater than hate. Respect is greater than mockery. Hope is greater than fear. Always.

World Trade Center Memorial Waterfall, photo by David W. Shelton

World Trade Center Memorial Waterfall, photo by David W. Shelton

Stand tall, America!

So on this day when we commemorate this wanton act of evil, let us remember that the attackers attacked ALL OF US. Their kind have no respect for anyone, and their disregard for life should remind all of us what true evil is.

Freedom Tower stands true, just as we all should stand against the perverted ideals of fascism, radical religious fundamentalism, fear, prejudice, and bigotry. It’s only then that we will be truly united, and I challenge everyone to look into their own soul and dare to ask the question of whether they are willing to stand with true freedom, or stand on the backs of those we fear and prejudge.

Ignore the tweets and the self-serving speeches of politicians. Who are we as a country? Who do we want to be as a nation?

If we are willing to accept the challenge, let’s do the impossible: become once again a nation that out of many, become ONE.