Throughout human history, generations past and present have faced terrible circumstances. Thomas Paine, at the beginning of the American Revolution, wrote about the trials of such situations when, in The American Crisis (1776), he wrote “These are the times that try men's souls.” Moments such as this have an indelible, universal impact that is etched in human memories and the historical architecture of civilization.
Some events are subtle, revealed with studied reflection and comparisons between present and past behaviors, while others are immediate, explicit and easily recognized. Every age group has at least one major defining moment that elicits an instantaneous memory of what, where and when. Conflicts, whether classified as “wars” or not, or accomplishments, are permanent reminders of the horrors and triumphs we humans can inflict or bestow on each other.
In the 1960’s… Cuban Missile Crisis, Civil Rights Movement, JFK, MLK assassinations, Hurricane Carla, Hurricane Camille, Vietnam War, Apollo 11; 70’s… Watergate, Nixon resignation, Beatlemania, Apollo 13, hijacking of airliners, thalidomide revelations; 80’s… U.S. Olympic Hockey victory, Michael Jackson rise to stardom, first woman in space, Challenger disaster, Chernobyl, Pan Am Flight 103 bombing, Berlin Wall falls… Whether these phenomena are manmade or natural, it goes on and on.
This month, we observe the anniversary of another momentous event that altered the landscape of human endeavor. On September 11, 2001 (911), people watched in horror as planes – United Airlines Flight 175 and American Airlines Flight 11, commandeered by terrorists, destroyed the twin towers of New York City and American Airlines Flight 77 severely damaged the Pentagon complex in Washington, D.C. A planned attack of another plane – American Airlines Flight 93, was thwarted by passengers who fought back, causing it to crash in the area of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The loss of lives and property was horrendous; the world reacted with shock and revulsion, but rebounded with determination.
Reaction was swift and reflected solidarity among civilized societies, abhorring such atrocities and forming a common bond of decency, superseding pre-existing petty rivalries. It’s unfortunate that it often takes events such as this – catastrophic or otherwise – to inspire communication, cooperation and motivation. Although 911 is 19 years in the past, it, along with other defining moments in history, is a continual reminder of Aristotle’s phrase about the possibilities and power of synergy – “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
This anniversary of a cataclysmic event marks another critical juncture of our history. Not only do we face an electoral quagmire and quandary, but it is occurring in the midst of a worldwide pandemic that has shown no mercy, superseding political preferences. Our country and its democratic process was and remains, as Paine noted in his pamphlet Common Sense, “…the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty…”
In the face of adversity, solidarity of spirit and purpose is at the basis of our country’s formation. Founded on the principle of freedom from fear and reprisal for holding differing opinions, religions, creeds and lifestyle choices, the essence of the United States and its possessions is expounded by Paine “…that so far as we approve as monarchy, that in America THE LAW IS KING. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other.”
If there is a place for jealousy… it is to guard the gift of political participation that is freely given to American citizens lucky enough to be born within its borders and those who, through grit and fortitude, choose to face daunting adversity to join its ranks and form the “whole” of our union. There is no choice for members of a free society; it is our duty and privilege to express opinions and consent at the ballot box in a legal and civilized manner. Adversity will always be a companion in life; how we respond is an undeniable obligation to posterity.