Divided We Stand

Divided We Stand

By Miriam Merrill

Today we reverently look back 16 years ago to September 11th, 2001. The first direct attack on the continental United States killed almost 3,000 and left countless individuals with broken hearts and spirits. Differences melted away as Americans united in mourning and in celebrating the heroic lives of those lost. In a scene almost unfamiliar to our nation today, patriotism was commonplace and even celebrated.

American flags were flown everywhere from doorsteps to car antennas. Strangers prayed together at candlelight vigils and memorial services. Almost 36,000 pints of blood were donated  in an effort to help victims. The phrase “United We Stand” wasn’t a banal platitude; it was a measure of our shared commitment to move forward together with optimism and strength.  Now fast forward to September 11, 2017. Sadly, it’s not difficult to deduce that this unity hasn’t endured.

According to Gallup, the smallest percentage of Americans in history are “Extremely Proud to be Americans”. As of last November a record high number – a whopping 77% – of Americans believed that our nation was divided. Monmouth University found that only 22% of Americans feel we are united in values. This issue isn’t just an American one – all across the world we are allowing differences to divide us.

Why does it take a national disaster to remind us that we are more alike than different? How come we so quickly forget the incredible strength we possess as a people when we are focused on helping one another through the difficulties of life, regardless of race or religion or any other factor? I believe the phenomena that divide us can start as children.

I literally had no idea who was rich and who was poor in my Kindergarten class. I wasn’t sure which students came from conservative families and which didn’t. I didn’t know who was religious and who wasn’t. Those thoughts never crossed my mind because I was too busy jump roping and playing recess games with my friends (I remember considering every student in class one of my friends by default, no questions asked). Those were wonderful years! I believe the divisions began in the 4th Grade when we started looking at clothing. If you had a name brand on your shirt, you were popular. If you didn’t, you weren’t. It was simple, yet definitive. Naturally, from that point on divisions multiplied as we all learned more about the world and each other. Cliques formed, based on any and every factor – any difference – that you could think of.

It is natural to be drawn to certain people because of similarities. I am not suggesting that this is bad and, in fact, I always encourage children and adults alike to choose associates based on those that will help them become the people they want to be. But I have great hope that today we can look back at the past and remember the heroes of 9/11 and the lessons they taught us; then recommit ourselves to standing together as neighborhoods, communities, and as nations rather than focusing on what might separate us. I hope we can take the time to remember how it feels when we try to see others as our friends. I hope we can talk to our families and children and that we will encourage each other to once again seek for this ideal. It may seem impossible given the current climate of the world in which we live. But I believe it is possible to unite in service to one another while maintaining strong convictions of our own, regardless of what they may be. Without sacrificing beliefs, love and light can persist in the world if we let it.

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