I was in the fourth grade. Our class was sitting in the library at J.H. Brooks Elementary School when the fire alarm sounded. In an unconventional fashion, we were instructed to grab large, hardback books, move into the hallways, and sit along the walls in tightly packed rows. Teachers huddled in the square lobby outside the library doors near where our class remained seated, naively confused as to what was going on.
I was one of the first to be retrieved. A teacher told me to follow her upstairs to our classroom to get my backpack; my mother was in the office waiting to pick me up. As I walked past my classmates, familiar faces asked what was happening. I didn’t know, and how could I? It was just another Tuesday.
I remembered watching the towers fall on the television back home. I remember my mom crying while my young sister and I tried to absorb the magnitude of the moment. As the day wore on and I watched brave men and women, covered in soot and ash, race around crowded streets in New York City, I began realizing what had happened. It was an attack on the United States. It was an attack on us all.
Somehow, we pushed on.
What seems like a lifetime’s past happened just 17 years ago. A group of cowards chose to end lives for the sake of a rebel ideal. I don’t want to hear about conspiracies. I don’t want to hear about assumptions. I know what I saw on that day in September 2001 — that was murder. It was cruel, diabolical and evil. It sent our country spiraling into fear, stumbling across contempt, echoing hate, and landing in revenge.
The United States military traveled halfway across the planet to carve a cancer out of the world. It was a long healing process, but we climbed our own way out, and it took us coming together to realize our strength.
Again, we pushed on.
Sports are a funny thing. They’re divisive, yet at the same time they preach camaraderie. The only way an athlete can get better is to be broken down to their core. While success is defined by victory, true strength is built in defeat. Sports are a lot like life in this way, I think.
We watched as evil thrust itself into our lives and ruptured our sense of security. Terrorists used fear and hate as a weapon in an attempt to break our spirits, to let our guard down, and allow them to win. They gave the United States of America their best fastball, and we fouled it off.
When we needed each other most, WE pushed on.
Now, here we sit once again, divided.
We’re defining ourselves based on the current cultural and political climate. We’re becoming more partisan in our politics, and even more dismissive of opposition in our discourse with one another. We’ve become the victims of companies who are using the colors of our skins to profit from our differences. Our country is building on the idea that people who aren’t Americans, but risk everything for a chance at the American Dream, are lesser than ourselves when we have a national anthem that ends, “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” If there is any time for us to remember that WE are united under one powerful flag, that should be right now.
We’ve completely rescinded our patriotism of September 11, 2001, in favor of something far different. Patriotism isn’t “Making America Great Again.” Patriotism is trusting that it’s always been great as long as we remain united in a single cause: the livelihood of each other. It’s been 17 years since we were attacked. It’s been 17 years of trials that have brought us to a critical point in our country’s history. We have people kneeling before the flag and others blindly waving its Confederate opposite.
One thing is certain: There wasn’t a single chair occupied the day we pushed on and returned to the sports world. WE stood united because in the end, all we had was each other and a simple game. Sports are a gateway that helps us remember that all we have is each other and this country that gives us our freedom. It doesn’t matter what color you were, where you came from, or who you voted for. We were Americans then, and we are Americans now.
Together, as always, we will push on.