This is one of those posts written at 3:00 am. I have a head cold and I’m awake. I couldn’t breathe — the congestion tide rolled back up into my sinuses and the only cure for me at the moment was gravity. So, I’m sitting up and thinking — and these are the middle-of-the-night ramblings of a stuffy, sleepy me.
Tomorrow is September 11 — again. For fourteen years, the date has been the slab of sidewalk lifted by a tree’s roots. It’s the one you trip over while on a walk, the one you become cautiously aware of on each journey, the one that remains long after the homeowner or the town has removed the offending tree.
Fourteen years. That means that every infant and toddler, elementary and middle school student, and the high school freshman class weren’t even born when the events of that day happened. All they know of what is, to them, ancient history comes from news footage and stories from us.
And as we relive each second of September 11, did we learn anything?
Consider recent news events. As a nation, we always seem to be at war. There’s a war on terror, a war on women, a war on gays, a war on Christians, a war on drugs, a war on immigrants, a war on police officers. We’re even at war with one another on whose lives matter most: black, white, or blue.
It’s at this point, I channel Scarlett O’Hara as she’s talking to the Tarleton boys under the trees at Twelve Oaks. “Fiddle-dee-dee. War, war, war! This war talk’s spoiling all the fun at every party this spring. I get so bored I could scream.”
I really could scream — out of frustration. Out of anger. Out of sadness.
We are a nation separated and ripped apart by a small piece of punctuation. The simple act of hyphenation has turned us into a hyphen nation.
On the one hand, the hyphen is the mark that places us into our tribes, giving us a sense of pride in our uniqueness from one another. When I consider my own hyphens — and I have enough to encircle the globe — I wonder if they truly define who I am. My hyphens, as numerous as they are, are only a small part of me and do not paint a complete picture.
In celebrating our differences we seem to have lost sight of our sameness.
Maybe it’s because of the 24-hour news cycle or that it’s campaign season and those who would like our vote can only do so by keeping our hyphens firmly affixed, but lately it seems as if our hyphens have gotten thicker and heavier.
It’s starting to feel as if our hyphens are a wall boxing us into our borders so that we can no longer speak or hear one another.
Recently, I visited a local community garden. It was clean-out day, a time when individuals and groups remove the remains of summer crops, feed the soil in the raised beds, and plant seeds for the fall growing season while leaving some room for the winter growing season. This is zone 10, after all.
There, among the dirt and tools, plants and hoses, it didn’t matter what hyphens the gardeners brought with them. In fact, hyphens were checked at the garden gate. Conservatives and liberals, Christians and atheists, straights and gays, blacks and whites — all worked together.
The only life that mattered was garden life.
It was, in a sense, September 12 all over again — the day that, despite our pain and loss and shock, we existed without hyphens.
As we go through the day on September 11, memorializing those lost, reliving our personal moments, and educating those who weren’t yet born — maybe we could take a few seconds to remember that the only ones who do not see our hyphens are those who would like to do us harm.
And maybe — just maybe — we could tell the younger generation what it was like on September 12, that hyphen-less day.