Moving On

When I woke up a few minutes ago, the day looked familiar. The sun outside was bright, the sky cloudless, just as it was eight years ago. Too beautiful a day for tragedy.

That much looks the same today, but it’s amazing how quickly the feelings of that afternoon and the days and months that followed have faded.

On a drive around the bay last weekend, through Green Bay and up to Marinette, I saw a ratty, faded sign clinging to a fence in front of a trailer home. It was one of those patriotic flags that were so omnipresent after 9/11. An angry eagle, an inspiring slogan. Now those are scarcely seen.

Also unseen were the yellow ribbon magnets, or any variety of the “Support the Troops” magnets and stickers that once clung to about half the vehicles on the road. Though we still have more than 130,000 troops stationed in Iraq and 68,000 committed to Afghanistan, apparently they have all grown up and no longer need our support. You don’t hear the slogan from Congressmen anymore, now that the whole “shock and awe” thing has lost some of its luster (took a little bit longer than six months after all, Mr. Rumsfeld. It appears Gen. Eric Shinseki was on to something).

Actually, the absence of those magnets is reassuring to me. I never could figure out how it supported the troops to buy a magnet made in China. I don’t remember anyone calling for a tax increase to improve benefits for veterans, raise salaries, or buy body armor, though the vets I talked to seemed to think that might be a bit more helpful.

Turns out symbols alone – the flags, the ribbons, yard signs, banners – weren’t enough to get us where we wanted to go as a country after 9/11. Turns out it was harder, a lot harder, than churning out songs and movies and catchy slogans. Turns out that eight years later, we still haven’t found the courage to get to a better place.

We swore we’d never be blind again. We swore we’d pay attention to the world around us. We swore we’d listen to and respect our neighbors, that the era of polarized shout-downs were over.

Eight years later, none of this came to pass, because very few among us want to swallow our pride and do the hard work of listening to each other and sacraficing a little to move forward.

We said the victims of 9/11 would not die in vain. But today, we’ve forgotten the war. We’ve forgotten the veterans. But most egregiously, we’ve forgotten our pledges to be better people and better citizens.

By sinking back to our old ways, we have let those lives be lost for nothing. We’ve simply moved on.