I think people are a lot like shoes. Created for a certain circumstance and purpose. Dance. Work. Leisure. Image. Those of high quality can be repaired more often than those that are poorly constructed but in the end, the consequences of life leave a worn sole. I think people are a lot like shoes.
The thought struck me for the first time watching coverage of the Twin Towers’ death. People running. Of all the images from that day—more so than the folks jumping to their death, more so than people begging others to help them find loved ones they would never, ever find, more so than the scrappers falling from the skies into piles of ash— it was the image of people running.
In front of my grandparents’ house, 20 minutes outside the city, there’s a stretch of cement. My grandfather was pouring it on a sunny morning, not unlike the one in September 17 years ago, when I ran through it. Two footprints of saddle shoes issued by my Catholic school embedded in the concrete. Frozen in 1994, age six. Watching the coverage that day, I wondered if there was a patch of drying cement in the city that now held scores of footprints, forward moving, frozen in time, preserving the terror of that day.
Genesis 25:9 tells us these boys are the sons of Ishmael. Descendant of Abraham. Forgoing reason and relying solely on faith, we are to believe that well into his first century of life, Abraham and his wife Sarah welcomed a son. Isaac. His birth, of course, came 13 years after the servant Hagar delivered unto Abraham his first born son, Ishmael. Fearing her own son would benefit poorly under Ishamael’s influence, Sarah cast both the boy and his mother out. So goes the story of our division. Ishamaelites, known today as ‘Arabs,’ the sons of Ishmael. Christians, the sons of Isaac. Remnants of Catholic school.
The notion we don’t want to drag from the back of our minds and place firmly in our hearts to rust and settle into the beats is that, we are not divided at all. The schools full of boys learning to hate America are not all that different from the western hamlets that inject Christianity into every nook and cranny that will hold it for fear that the absence of “God” may be mistaken as a tolerance for “Allah.” Suicide bombers in dusty, desert alleys cast easily back to southern streets glowing from the hate of the torches and thick with the fear of young black children. Children threatening to kill Americans on film are not all that different than Aryan toddlers being coached to decry immigrants (in much filthier language) on their parents’ social media pages.
We condemn the culture that would demand a religious doctrine become state law and have women ashamed of their God-given bodies. Yet picket signs line the chambers of legislatures demanding that a single religion’s command be the basis by which all laws are approved and that even actions deemed legal by the state, be banished because they are illegal according to scripture. When we opt to be driven by faith, it is with the understanding that sometimes we are in the passenger seat and may not always approve of the destination. We’ll get there just the same, our soles may just be more worn than we’d like.
More than a decade after 9/11, we can drown our founding principles in whatever bigotry and profit mongering we want. We can brag about this elusive freedom we seem to want to steal for ourselves and ours, with no regard for those who are different. We can wave all the flags we want while holding our protest signs higher and point our fingers towards the Middle East and command them terrorists. We can be the land of the free and the home of the brave but I think it would be more fitting of our foundation if we were also the nation of understanding and the mainland of tolerance.
Seventeen years ago people ran for their lives, leaving footprints in the dust of the towers. Those who ran away, lifted fallen strangers from the sidewalks as they passed. Those who ran towards the chaos, did so with the intent to give their life in the smallest hopes of saving someone else’s. Some fell together into the street and prayed because that’s all there was left to do. The sons and daughters of Ishmael bowed their heads and clutched the hands of the sons and daughters of Isaac. And prayed together.
I imagine there will be a lot of talk of the impact of 9/11 this week. Tributes scattered among the coverage of immigration and football players’ peaceful protests. Reminders of the images, victims and heroes of that day will be coming at us pretty quickly but I would hope that in re-living the nightmare, we make the conscious effort to work toward the dream. One in that young girls can hope to be president, people of color find safety in a land just as much theirs as anyone else’s and where we can all understand that patriotism has many meanings but all of them are felt passionately by those who love this country. Wherein we can be spared the ugliness of judgement and the evil rhetoric that is currently passing for civilized debate in American today. Mostly I hope that in the shadows of September 11, we will remember to walk a mile in our enemies’ footsteps and tread lightly in our treatment of others. I think, in the end, it will save our souls.