September 11, 2001 is seared into my memory, as it probably is for you.
The night preceding that fateful morning was the Monday Night Football home opener for the Denver Broncos. It was Cooper’s second season with the Broncos. It the first game in the new Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium. There was so much excitement. I wasn’t yet living in Denver, so I flew in for the occasion. We played the New York Giants. We beat them 31-20. Eddie McCaffrey broke his leg catching a pass from Brian Griese. He didn’t even drop the ball as his leg grotesquely snapped in half. These are the things I remember.
When I awoke in the early morning haze of a late night celebrating that win, it was to the sound of my cell phone ringing with back to back to back calls. I was so groggy, but that instinct one feels when phone calls come at an odd hour set me on edge.
When I picked it up, it was my mother’s panicked voice that I heard coming through my Motorola Star-Tac. She was pleading with me not to get on the plane I was scheduled to board later that day to return home to Tampa.
“Don’t get on that plane!! Don’t get on that plane!!” I remember her crying. She repeated it over and over with desperarion in her voice and no explanation. I was so disoriented, but suddenly I was wide awake.
What I saw unfold on the television was unthinkable at that time, in that pre-9/11 world. I was paralyzed with sadness. I couldn’t turn away from the horror of it all. I wept for all those people. I wept for our country. I just wept uncontrollably.
Then came the stories of the heroes. The stories of bravery. So many heroes were made that day.
Their stories, too, are seared into my memory.
I will never forget.
But you know what else I will never forget?
I will never forget what it felt like to be an American in the days and weeks following 9/11.
I will never, ever forget the sense of patriotism and unification that were borne out of this unimaginable act of terror against us.
I will never forget how I felt as I watched on television, hand over my heart, tears spilling over my cheeks, as Cooper, his teammates, and their opponents together unfurled a football field sized American flag at their first game post-9/11.
Almost every one of those men–men of all different races, religions, and backgrounds, but all American–had one hand on that flag and one hand on his heart. Most had tears in their eyes. All of them stood. It was one of the most moving things I have ever witnessed.
In 2001, in the wake of one of our greatest tragedies, our flag represented all that is good about America. We stood together beneath it, united against our sworn enemies, and vowed not to let them take us down. Our patriotism was palpable. We were resolute and unified in defeating terror. It was us against them.
Now, in 2018, a mere 17 years later, the us-against-them mentality has become internal. We are at odds with one another. We have unraveled. It is a tumultuous time for us as a nation. Our flag has morphed, for some, into a symbol that is to be disrespected for its association with injustice and inequality. The respect we once had for our glorious flag has become a casualty of the conflict among our own people.
How does that old saying go…? United we stand, divided we fall? Trite, cliched sentiment, maybe.
But, oh, how the mighty have fallen.
We all said we would never forget. NEVER FORGET.
But it seems we have.
Shame on us.