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America the Beautiful

America the Beautiful

It's been nearly a month since the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The World Trade Center memorial has been unveiled and the poignant speeches have all been spoken. By now, the survivors and families of victims have made the dizzying rounds on the media circuit, and with soundbites and sentiments packaged, the international networks and local news crews have packed up and left. What remains are fizzed out leftovers of American nationalism and the steady wave of NYC tourists curious about the gaping holes in the southern tip of that busy island.

I was tempted to indulge in my own mourning and remembrance of 9/11 in a sappy blog, but I didn't think I could add any more to the pundits already postulating on the significance of that day. I had some stuff to say, but I couldn't justify using 9/11 for a spike in blog readership if tagged properly.

And so 10 years and one month later, the timeliness of the news hook is delayed, but I still remember. And it still hurts. And I still can't figure out why physically being on American soil on the date of the anniversary mattered, but as it turns out, it mattered very much indeed. 

I had just flown in for a quick visit home and was tickled happy to be sitting at the table surrounded by all of six of my siblings and their significant others. These moments are rare and I relished it, and my dad's perfectly grilled steak, with sweet satisfaction. When my dad said he had an announcement to make, all eyes moved towards the head of the table. Forks clinked loudly on emptying plates and I think I may have nervously joked, "who's pregnant now?" 

Taking advantage of our presence on the eve of 9/11, Dad he said he wanted to take a vote about what to do with the American flag on our family's property. Do we do as the rest of the nation and lower it to half mast in symbolic mourning, or do we leave it up in defiance of proper protocol? 

It was unanimous. 

In honour of the nearly 3,000 victims, we voted to leave it raised, letting it fly proud and free. 

On the morning of September 11th, I attended church with my family. I was restless, and sometimes, tradition brings comfort. 

You couldn't deny the heaviness in the air and I wondered how my home pastor would tie in the anniversary of the attacks with a sermon. As much as I believe him to be a sincere man of God, I blanched at the thought of him trying to politicize such a day or manipulate our emotions for the purposes of "the Kingdom." He introduced the worship team for a special song and as they started into the old classic, "America the Beautiful," I started to bristle with my new-found Canadian cynicism. 

In the end, my humanity won out and I could help but weep at the 200-year-old hymn, turned patriotic song. Singing in solidarity with my fellow Americans in my parents' church felt right and I couldn't imagine being anywhere else. Looking down the aisle, I saw ripe tears falling on several of my family members' faces. It was visceral and healing at the same time. 

This September 11, 2011, Ground Zero found its way all across America. From the gutted out financial district of Manhattan, to the church pews of Oklahomans, who remember the violence of terror all too well themselves. 

When we came to the line in the lyrics, "thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears," my voice caught in my throat and I wondered if the writer of that old poem knew how poignant her words would one day become. How prophetic even. Because even through my wet obscurity, America had never looked more beautiful. 

The flag on my parents' property at sunset