If someone told me ten years ago that I would be flying from Chicago to London on 9/11 I would've said, "I don't bloody think so." And yet... here I am. Now in England, after flying out last night from O'Hare, I'm taking care of some business, visiting friends, and wishing I didn't have to return to the mess that awaits me at home.
Life is a strange and twisty ride. I remember, like every other American (and resident of Earth who cares about America), exactly where I was ten years ago when those towers fell. Watching in horror and confusion in my tv room while clutching my toddler and trying to not completely fall apart so he wouldn't freak out. I remember trying to explain to him that some very bad people were attacking a city in America and that it was going to mean war, even though we didn't know with whom it would be. I guess I probably failed at that "not freaking him out" thing a little bit, but he asked.
So when I staggered off the plane this morning, exhausted and a little emotional, and already thrown a little off-kilter by having to adjust back to driving a car on the wrong side of the road, I was taken a bit by surprise when the guard at Enterprise asked me if I remembered where I was 10 years ago exactly on this day. Then he shared his own experience with me, saying that someone yelled it out on the street and he went into a bar to see what was going on (it was the afternoon here) and stayed there with many others, all watching in disbelief that something like that would happen in America.
I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I've been dwelling a lot lately on how different I feel like the world is today from that horrifying day ten years ago. A day that manages somehow to seem like just yesterday, but also like an eon ago.
I was looking through hundreds and hundreds of photos of 9/11 on flickr, putting together a slideshow for Strollerderby, and remembered how unified the country felt after the terror of that day. Everyone was going through the horror together. Everyone was trying to make sense of it. Everyone wanted to help. I felt so proud of our country during those weeks. Proud that differences could be set aside and everyone walked in lockstep, thinking only of how we could recover from this evil blow. I felt proud when our soldiers swept into Afganistan to sweep out as many caves as they could.
But then things started to go wrong. The country started to divide over how and if Iraq was involved. My husband and I had to agree to never speak about politics because it was a sure-fire way to get in a shouting match.
I developed a deep, almost pathological hatred of George W. Bush that rose from the sense of betrayal I felt when he led our country down this destructive, never-ending path of war that is sucking our country dry.
I watched in dismay as the Republicans ran away with what they called a "mandate" and created a budget of more spending and less taxes that would never do anything but cripple our country.
Today, after two years of living in England and exercising a willful ignorance of what was happening in American politics (I still don't know exactly how this whole "tea party" thing came to pass, so help me), I watch in shock and disbelief as the two sides of our government display how very wide the chasm has grown between them.
I heard a quote from someone in the WSJ the other day on NPR that went something like this: What can be done when a section of our government would "rather see their country fail, than their president succeed?" It scared me because it's true. This Boehner man's insolence to President Obama is unfathomable. I remember Newt Gingrich and other Republicans being rude about Clinton in the aftermath of the Monica Lewinski scandal, but where is the scandal and betrayal in being a level-headed, reasonable man trying to lead our country through difficult days? Where is the scandal in expecting civility from the Congress and Senate?
I wonder why nobody in our government is willing to make the hard decisions that need to be made to fix the mess that we now have on our hands. After living in the UK for two years, I see how much COULD be taxed, but isn't, in this country of ours. I wonder why everyone is so afraid of taxes.
Would a 5¢ tax on every gallon of gas really push American citizens over the edge? What about a 5% federal sales tax on luxury items (i.e. anything that isn't food or necessary to live)? Would this small amount of money really be so difficult for people to give and for politicians to ask for?
I don't understand why nobody is asking for me to make a monetary sacrifice to help our country regain it's footing in the world. I don't understand why being willing to pay more taxes makes me so liberal that I'm worthy of Republican scorn. And I really don't understand how wanting a health care system that has to answer to some governmental regulation that would help people who desperately need health care get it is something that Republicans can rally their forces to oppose.
It just doesn't make sense. Not to me. And I don't think any of it makes sense for our country.
I want the America back that buckles down and understands that you have to work double hard if you want to succeed. I want the America that understands that sacrifice can mean big rewards later. I want an America that cares about every American, not just the ones that can pay their own way. I want an America that spends more on butter, not guns.
Is this an America that can exist?