This Week’s Patheos Column: September 11th, Patriotism, and the Human Spirit

I grew up in northern New Jersey, about thirty miles outside of Manhattan; but on September 11, 2001 I was living in Valparaiso, Indiana. I was a long way from home. I felt helpless. A feeling of homesickness came over me. I wanted to return to the place where I grew up and experience a sense of solidarity with those suffering in what New Yorkers call the tri-state area.

During the course of that day, and the several days that would follow, I realized that I was not the only one seeking communion with the people of Manhattan. Students and faculty at Valparaiso University, the school where I was teaching, would stop me in the hall and on the sidewalk to ask me if I knew anyone who was killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center. (I did not.) Others told me that listening to my “New York accent” (which is actually a New Jersey accent) allowed them to feel more connected to what was happening at Ground Zero.

Ten years later, as I reflect back on that day, I realize just how strange it really was. Midwestern Lutherans in Valparaiso, Indiana longed for a sense of communion with urban cosmopolitans and ethnic civil service workers in the “big city.” There were no culture wars on September 11th. There was only a sense of our common humanity. And in the immediate wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, such a feeling of common humanity quickly took on a nationalist flavor.

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2 thoughts on “This Week’s Patheos Column: September 11th, Patriotism, and the Human Spirit

  1. It is interesting how calamity can erase all of our partisan lines if only for a day. I'm sure a sociologist could explain the reason for this, but I can't help but think hope is the primary reason. Events like 9/11 embolden the despair so many already feel–but in such instances, that despair is no longer privatized.

    As I sat in my freshman Humanities lecture in northeast TN, it didn't matter what state someone was from, what ethnicity, what social class, what mattered was being American.

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