My father, a veteran of WWII, was a Knickerbocker. A proud New Yorker who grew up on Long Island Sound, he reminded me a little bit of Frank Sinatra and even more of James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy.
Dad died in September of 1999, two years before the morning of September 11, 2001. I am glad he was not here then. It would have broken his heart to see New York attacked. There is no doubt in my mind he would have demanded we retaliate by invading Iraq. No doubt he would have fully supported President Bush when he did just that, in March of 2003. Back then, frightened and horrified by the events of the day, I may have even agreed with him. One of the few times I would.
But as the ninth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, as reports of a pastor in Florida wanting to burn copies of the Koran fills the news, I find myself longing for a new way to acknowledge and honor what happened on that bright, clear September morning. A way of remembering the victims that is more representative of the principles I believe this country was founded upon. A way that gives me hope and confidence in the future. A way that supports my belief that there are more tolerant people in the world than the extremists of the world would have us believe.
I am, of course, just one woman, in one small town in America. I have no influence or position in the world. But I know what I would do if I had the power.
I would redefine 9/11.
From this day forward I would declare it a day of world tolerance. I would then invite two representatives from every country in the world to come to New York City. They would gather at Ground Zero and offer, in their native language, their simple wish for tolerance. The two representatives would be one adult and one child. The adult would be there simply as an escort for the child who would say, for example, “I come to you from my home in North Korea to stand beside you in tolerance and peace on this day of your national mourning.” Or something to that effect.
Imagine the power this would have. Imagine the good will it would foster, even if just for one day. No politics, no religion, just small emissaries from across the globe speaking words of hope. Promise, for a world they will one day inherit.
My plan would be to have the children read these messages aloud each year following the traditional four minutes of silence at Ground Zero. Our country’s television stations and radio stations would air the children’s message for everyone to hear.
It’s a large dream, I know. And though I dream big, I am not naïve. I am well aware that there are countries that would decline our invitation. I also know there are many people in this country who would vehemently oppose such a plan, preferring instead to hold on to their anger and hatred.
This day would not be for them. It would be for the majority of Americans, like me, who are ready to turn the tragedy of 9/11 into something very different. Something the terrorists never envisioned when they flew those planes into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and the field in Pennsylvania. Something bigger and more powerful than their message of hate and revenge. Something that is inclusive and enduring.
Something I’d like to believe my father would embrace.