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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sunday Confessional: How 9/11 Changed Me

This is the third year in which this article has been posted.  It was the first story published on "The Daily Twitch".

Growing up as a Jehovah's Witness, I was always told that it was wrong to salute the flag. I wasn't allowed to say the Pledge of Allegiance. I had to remain seated for the National Anthem. It's not that I had been intentionally disrespecting or desecrating the flag as a child. My parents never instilled in me the reasons why the symbols of our country, and the flag in particular, should be respected.

You can imagine the uncomfortable situations I had found myself in growing up. In the classroom everyday for years. At school assemblies. At sporting events. Countless dirty looks. People making comments under their breath. Even the occasional thwack to the back of the head with the words, "What's wrong with you? You a Commie or somethin? Stand up boy".

In my younger days, I saw it as an opportunity to "witness". To share my beliefs with others.  I would tell them that I wasn't standing because my religion wouldn't permit me to. Usually, that would be as far as I got. The offended spectator would turn a more enraged shade of red and that would be my que to face forward for the rest of the event and not make eye contact with anyone for the next 3 hours.

As I got older, I got wiser. I realized that by being in my seats during the National Anthem, I was only asking for trouble. So, I would generally take that time of the pre-game to go to the bathroom or grab a drink or a souvenir. Most times, I would just intentionally show up late to a game - skip the first 2 minutes of the period or the top half of the first inning altogether.

So how does this tie in to 9/11? I'll get to that in a second. But first: February 13, 1983. The Forum, Irvine, California. It was the NBA All Star Game. For some reason my dad was watching it on TV. I never remember him being much of a basketball fan. I've never been much of one either. But something special happened that night. The time came for the National Anthem. This is what we saw:

It gave me chills. As a 7 year old, I didn't know why. I had a feeling then that I couldn't put into words, that I wouldn't feel again until 18 years later. I left the church in 1996, but, out of habit I guess, continued my "tradition" of not standing for the National Anthem.

Then came September 11th, 2001. It's a day that, 8 years later, I still think about on a daily basis. We all tend to re-live the shots of the people running in the streets, the towers falling, and the planes hitting the towers. Today though, I had a different memory for the first time. I remembered the firefighters going into Ground Zero to tie an American Flag onto a beam of the World Trade Center. This was still while the area was unsafe. There was still a possibility of the surrounding buildings collapsing. It was their way of saying "We're still here. We're still standing".

When I saw that flag amongst the rubble, that feeling I first felt as a 7 year old had returned. It was pride. The flag reminded me of the anthem's lyrics itself: "Gave proof through the night, That our flag was still there, O say does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave, O'er the land of the free, And the home of the brave". It waved over many a brave volunteer in the days and weeks following the attacks.

September 10, 2001, was the last day I refused to sit for the National Anthem. Since the events of 9/11, not only do I show my respect to my nation and its flag, but I sing along with the Star Spangled Banner, and get choked up at the end. Every time.