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The Loving Country

There are certain days in your life that you never want to forget - your birthday, your first date, your marriage proposal, your wedding day, the birth of your children, your golden anniversary, and the list goes on and on. But there are days that you will never forget that will make you sad as well - the death of a parent or a loved one you were close to, moving away from your best friend to a new city, a rough day at school, being fired or laid off from your job, a miscarriage, and the list goes on and on. Those days may make you sad even if it doesn't directly affect you - the death of an actor, celebrity, politician, author, artist, or someone you admired from afar is a perfect example of this. I still remember the days when I heard the news about the deaths of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Kobe Bryant, Robin Williams, Doris Day, Alan Rickman, John Lewis, John McCain, James Horner, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, and Chadwick Boseman, and how shocked and saddened I was. They were a substantial part of my life, providing me with music, laughter, creativity, and inspiration to keep on living my best life, even if I never knew them personally. No matter what you remember about that day, it's instilled in your memory banks for a long time. You could say it may shape you into the individual you were destined to become. Good or bad, you can either learn from the successes and mistakes you made or keep on running from it and not take any responsibility or grow. Here's a question for you: has there ever been a day that changed you as an individual? I'm pretty sure there has. What about a day that has changed your neighborhood and community? Most definitely. What about a day that changed an entire nation? Or even the entire world? I can think of one day that has. Imagine yourself waking up on a beautiful day in September. I mean BEAUTIFUL. The sun is shining, the weather is not too hot or too cold, and there's not a cloud in the sky. It's absolutely perfect. You may be on your way to work or taking the kids to school. You might be out on a morning jog. If you're visiting a new city, you're out sightseeing. You'd probably hate to be inside because it's so gorgeous outside. Then, at 8:46 am EST, you get a breaking news story, and it's nothing you'd heard before. A plane has crashed into the northern facade of the North Tower of the World Trade Center in NYC, and no one is sure if it was an accident or if it was on purpose. For the next 15 minutes or so, reporters and photojournalists are trying to make sense of what's going on. And then, at 9:03 am EST, a horrifying sight appears on live TV. A second plane has crashed into the facade of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Oh. My. God. Is this for real? This can't be happening. It looks like something out of an action movie. Who could've done this? Why? It's a sight no one could've imagined seeing on such a beautiful day. But it was there, on all the major news stations and more. That day was 11 September 2001.

NYC was brought to a standstill. The whole nation was bought to a standstill. Yes, even the whole world was bought to a standstill. To make matters worse, there was yet another crash in the western facade of the Pentagon in Washington, DC, at 9:37 am EST. And a fourth plane, that was heading to Disneyland in Anaheim, California, to crash into Cinderella's castle, was subdued by the brave passengers on Flight 93 and crashed into a field in Shanksville, PA. It's an image no one can forget, even though it has now been 19 years since the deadliest terrorist attacks on the US. 2,996 people, including the 11 hijackers, were killed on that day. More than 90 countries lost people who were killed on that day. 6,000 people were injured that day. The FDNY, NYCPD, and PAPD lost many of their own that day. It was a bad day all around. Where was I on 9/11? Well, I was in 7th grade at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School in Merrillville, IN. It was a beautiful day, and I didn't want to be inside. But lucky for all of us, it was a half-day since there was a teacher's meeting, and we couldn't wait to spend the rest of the day at home, whether that was outside or watching TV aimlessly. As we were getting ready to be dismissed, the principal comes to the door of our classroom and whispers something in my teacher's ear. She became quite pale but doesn't say anything. Then, all of us in the school was called into the church, and we all wondered what this was all about. Once we were all seated, our pastor told us what happened, and we were all shocked. It was frightening, to say the least. Of course, there were some snide comments from the eighth graders which were quite disrespectful at this time. But I was stunned. I couldn't believe it. I'm not sure if any of us could. Once we were all dismissed, I asked my mom if she heard about what happened, and she said yes. She and her colleagues at the clinic were watching the news as it first broke out. But the one thing that she remembers about that day was the eerie silence in the skies. Lake County was the layover for planes and jets to fly over us, and when they had grounded flights after the attacks, it became utterly quiet. If you live in an area where planes fly overhead or live near an airport, you understand what I'm talking about. In the coming days, there was a sense of patriotic pride and unity throughout the country. Even from across the globe there were people coming together to bring warmth and support to the US. Of course, there was prejudice and hatred towards Muslims and Indians from the Middle East because the hijackers and perpetrators came from that area. Many people ostracized them from their gatherings, bullied and belittled them on a regular basis, and just assumed the worst about them. And yet, even in the midst of uncertainty and anger, there were still people out there who realized that not all of them are evil and out to do harm. In fact, much of the terrorism that happens on our soil is US-based. Think back to Columbine or any of the school shootings that took place over the course of 20+ years. But the bottom line is we ALL came together - white, black, Asian, indigenous, gay, lesbian, Indian, British, German, French, African, you name it. We put aside our differences and realized that in that instant we could all come together in unity and love to heal, grow, and thrive. It wasn't just an attack on the US. It was an attack on all the things the whole world stood for - courage, love, determination, growth, understanding one another, respecting each other, and hope. For just that moment, even going into 2002, we were ALL in this together. Even the nations outside of the US came together and saw each other as people. No color lines necessary. No religious affiliation was necessary. No sexuality preferences were necessary. No political affiliation was necessary. We just saw each other as neighbors, friends, and family. For that brief period of time, we were all UNITED. It's funny how history has a way of repeating itself, even when you least expect it. Especially since now, in 2020, there is a new attack on the US and throughout the world, and it has now claimed more lives than the deadliest terrorist attacks in the US. And its name is a coronavirus, specifically COVID-19.

I don't need to remind you of the history of this virus since we're living in it right now. But in case you've forgotten, be sure to check out my second blog for more information. Since the news began in late 2019, COVID-19 has spiraled out of control. Over 27 million confirmed cases worldwide. Nearly 900,000 deaths across the globe. And the numbers continue to grow by the day. In the US, over 6 million confirmed cases of the virus have been reported. Over 190,000 deaths in the course of 6 months. And the numbers continue to grow each day. Could this have been prevented? Yes. Should we have listened to the recommendations from the CDC and World Health Organization who have pleaded and begged for months on end to take this seriously? Yes. Is this virus going to go away on its own? Not a chance. This pandemic is very much like 9/11 in many ways. There is a high number of lives being impacted and lost every day. The world is supposedly at a standstill. There are fears and confusion about how to go on living in a pandemic. And once again, it's not just a US problem. It's a WORLDWIDE problem. Each and every one of us has had a wake-up call to put our lives in a new perspective. Whether that's redefining your priorities, spend more time with your loved ones, figure out new outlets to deal with mental health struggles, move much of your business transactions, and organizations online (if you're able to), and so much more. And sadly, since the virus originated in China, there have also been some attacks against the Asian community, and it's hitting their businesses very hard. Yet, there are people out there who know that not all Asians are bad or out to get us. And we continue to support them because they're still people. And the phrase "we're all in this together" has never been more prevalent until now. And yet, there are also some major differences as well. Even with mask mandates, social distancing requirements, daily temperature checks, washing hands for 20 seconds, using hand sanitizer, and limiting your trips away from your home and neighborhood, this pandemic has had consequences that could've been prevented. So many people did NOT have to die. The biggest culprit to this? Selfishness. We live in a time where it's go-go-go and not taking much time to stop and smell the flowers. And yet, when the pandemic hit, it provided us the perfect opportunity to do just that. Slow down, appreciate the little things that make us happy, and put things in a new perspective. Instead, many of us couldn't go a day without going out to the bar, or to a party, or to a restaurant, or to the stores, or anywhere but our homes because we have to so many things in order to keep us from going crazy. We just couldn't stop and take the time to enjoy the leisurely pace AND keep others safe. The biggest problem? Many people refuse to wear a mask or social distance. "It's my constitutional right to breathe and not wear a mask!" "You're impeding on my rights to breathe!" "I can do whatever I want." "You don't have to tell me what to do." Boo-hoo. There are people out there who wear masks for a LOT longer than the half-hour to one hour you spend at the stores, restaurants, or events that require masks. Think doctors, nurses, soldiers, and so many others who have to wear masks for their jobs. If they can spend hours or even days in a mask, then you can spend one measly half-hour to an hour or so in a mask, too. And from what I've witnessed in pictures, you don't want to be on a ventilator. And another thing. It was NEVER about YOU. It never has, and it never will be. It's about ALL of us. Now is NOT the time to be selfish and placing your stupidity disguised as "civil liberties" above your own safety and well-being. Each and every one of us is affected by this pandemic in some way. Don't go around thinking that you're the only one that is the exception to the rule. Have you forgotten the lessons learned from 9/11? Have you forgotten how we ALL put aside our differences and helped each other? Have you forgotten that it wasn't just a US problem, but a WORLDWIDE problem? Have you forgotten that it was NEVER about you, but about your fellow neighbors and the people you have never met before but have been impacted by this just as much as you? Have you forgotten that we're all PEOPLE, going through this pandemic together, rich or poor, young and old, black and white, strong and weak, and so much more? I'm saddened by what this nation and even some parts of the world has become. No one is impeding on your rights to breathe. What part of that don't you understand? The reason why these mandates and rules are in place is to protect ALL OF US. Even if you're strong, healthy, and full of life, you can still get sick with the virus. There are plenty of examples of individuals who were living their best lives when they were infected and are either now struggling to take a breath or are dead. No life is worth losing because of your selfishness and thinking that it's your "civil liberty" to breathe when so many others are struggling to do so. Why do I wear a mask, social distance, wash my hands for 20 seconds or more, washing down my packages and groceries with bleach disinfectant, and so much more? I do it out of LOVE. I do it for my mom, who is 70 years old but still acts like a spring chicken and I don't want to lose her to a deadly virus like this one. I do it for my friends, those in theatre, those from my church, and those from outside both realms. I do it for them because they have families, friends, loved ones, and so many people they care about. I do it for them because some of them have preexisting conditions and I would hate to be the cause of them getting the virus. I do it for my neighbors, even the ones I don't know because they have families and friends they cherish and I don't want my selfishness to impact their lives. I do it for the people I don't know because no life is worth losing over the crazy idea that your needs matter more than others. I get it. You're scared. You're confused. You're even angry. But please try to see what I've been trying to tell you all along: you're NOT the only one who feels these emotions right now. We all are, no matter where you come from, what your job is, how big your family is, and so much more. But just like 11 September, we're going to get through this. TOGETHER. Even if it takes months or a year, there IS a light at the end of the tunnel. If we can all see that each and every one of us is in the same boat, it would make things easier to handle, even if it's hard right now. If we can all realize that the only to get through this is to think of others before our own needs, we could be a better, more loving society. If we can just take the time to care about the people we know and the people we don't know, even if we're miles away, our world would be a much better place. If we can just take the time to understand one another and not be afraid of the differences each of us had, we could finally start to move forward in a progressive way. If we just hang onto HOPE, things will get better. Even if it's not the exact same way as you thought it would be. (Before I wrap this up, I just need to reiterate something I've said in my previous blogs. These words are from my personal experiences and thoughts. You don't have to agree with me on this or take what I've said as the law of the land. But all I do ask is you take the time to read this blog, let it ruminate in your mind for a while, and understand where I'm coming from.)

I wish we could go back to September 2001, when after the attacks we all came together as one. We put aside our differences, prejudices, and hatred for the following months and were UNITED as one people. I know it didn't last that way for very long, but the fact that we ALL came together is an important lesson to share for this anniversary of the attacks. Yes, things will be quite different this year. It is just as scary and confusing as it was 19 years ago. There's still so much work to be done to get the nation to a place where each and every human being is treated as an individual, regardless of color, religion, sexuality, and nationality. We need to see that in this pandemic ALL of us are impacted. It's not just a national problem; it's an INTERNATIONAL problem, and we all have to come together to make sure no more lives are lost because of selfishness and the inability to act out of our own protection. We deserve leaders who will guide us with courage, open-mindedness, sincerity, compassion, vision, hope, discretion, and generosity instead of division, hatred, fear, lies, closed-mindedness, greed, and confusion. It's time for ALL of us to come together once again, out of love, safety, selflessness, and courage to face this pandemic. Please don't mistake your "God-given right" to breathe as your reason to fight against the need for safety and protection for those who are the most vulnerable. That's not civil liberty; that's plain recklessness. There is an episode of 7th Heaven where the episode was dedicated in honor of the late Staff Sgt. Dwight J. Morgan who was killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, as well as the U.S. Marines. Eric Camden asked his congregation to do something in his honor, no matter how big or small it may be. Here's my challenge for you on this anniversary: do something special in the memory of the victims of the attacks, as well as the victims of this virus. But do it out of safety, concern, and love of others. Donate to a food bank, small business, an organization with a cause you believe in, even your neighbor who may be struggling. Check-in with your friends and neighbors virtually or at a reasonably distanced place outside. Wear a mask. It's time to start thinking of others before yourself. "Love is placing someone else's needs before yours." It had to take a talking snowman to express what is so simple yet so hard to comprehend and actively do in this pandemic. You know if you don't wear a mask, social distance, wash your hands for 20 seconds or even wipe down packages and groceries, you're doing a disservice to your family, neighbors, and those you haven't met yet by not caring about their needs and safety. But more importantly, you're dishonoring the memories of those who died from the virus who were either doing the right thing and stayed safe or let their "God-given right to breathe" get in the way of common sense and caught the virus. Don't make that same mistake. Don't be the cause of besmirching the memories of the lives lost to this pandemic by being foolish and not place the needs of others before yourself. If you want to remember those lives lost, wear a mask. Social distance. Wash your hands. Wipe down groceries and packages if you want to be safe. Just please start thinking of those who are the most vulnerable. Remember your family and loved ones you hold so near and dear to your heart. Think about the neighbors, acquaintances, and those you haven't met yet. Start placing the needs of others before yourself. That's love. And that simple message from a snowman can make all the difference during this pandemic and on the anniversary of 9/11. Be a nation that became UNIFIED out of love, not DIVIDED over fear.

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