American. Heroes.

On September 11, 2001, I was working at the News-Press, our local paper.

Like every other American, that morning I woke to a new world, and though I didn’t know it yet, everything was about to change.

I rushed to the newsroom and spent the next day and night combing the wire services, forwarding photos to our editorial team and assembling updates for the online readers of our then-new digital edition.

But even in the midst of the chaos and the horror of realizing what had happened, I remember feeling another force bubbling up as I saw so many across our country choosing to stand together and support one another…

It was a feeling that even though we were in the midst of a dark moment, we would pull through it together because we were still “these United States of America” and whatever our background, nationality, color or cultural heritage, it was a privilege to be an American, and we chose to put that first.

It was hope.

I miss that hope.

I miss the feeling of living in a country where we choose to be civil to one another and give each other the benefit of the doubt, though we may have vastly different and strongly held beliefs and opinions.

I miss the feeling of living in a country where we believe most people really do have good intentions and are doing their best to do right, even if their methods and conclusions are night and day to our own.

I miss the feeling of living in a country where we honor the diversity of our heritage and celebrate our past, but choose to prioritize a common identity for our future.

And I unashamedly long for a day when we choose to ditch our hyphens and prefixes, set aside our prejudices and preconceptions, let go of our grievances and entitlements and instead embrace humility, forgiveness, kindness, and grace together.

One set of my great-grandparents crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico to build a new life in Texas, and the other continued a long heritage of life in the American South, but these histories don’t tell me who I am, only where I came from.

I am an American, and I choose to pick “we” over “me.”

That’s what the heroes of 9/11 did, both those who died and those who live on with memories most of us can’t even fathom.

That’s what the heroes of our armed forces did and still do, whether or not they align with the person in the White House or agree with the mission of the moment.

That’s what the heroes of our law enforcement agencies are still doing, always imperfectly because they are human like me, but with a commitment to do the best they can with what they know and what they have.

That’s what our healthcare heroes and first responders continue to do, even though what’s now being asked of them is a far greater load than they ever expected to carry.

That’s what our ministry heroes, faith leaders and mental health practitioners are doing as they give of themselves to ease other people’s pain, taking on the grief, confusion and exhaustion of others as their own.

That’s what our education heroes do as they fight battles on multiple fronts with far too little appreciation as they help our children as well as they know how.

All of these people and so many more fight their good fight not because it is what’s best for them, but because it is what’s best for US.

They never do it perfectly or with complete information, and they rarely get acknowledged or rewarded as much as they should, but they do it anyway because it needs to be done.

That’s what real heroes do.

That’s what real Americans do.

So because I am an American, I will choose to pick “we” over “me,” too.

– PG • 9/11/2021


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