Around 8:50 am, on September 11, 2001, I arrived with members of my church at the town’s community center to distribute bags of food to the impoverished. This was something that our church did every month.
About 40 people had gathered in the lobby of the community center that morning to receive one small grocery bag each containing five non-perishable food items. All wishing to receive a bag were asked to sign their name in a notebook that was passed around to each person.
After everyone signed their name, I had the painstaking task of reading and checking off each name as they were handed their bag of food. The names were often very difficult to read. Sometimes it was the handwriting that was challenging, but oftentimes it was the names themselves, as they obviously denoted a variety of ethnicities.
As the notebook was being passed around the room that day, someone turned on the television that was mounted on the wall. The Today Show hosted by Matt Lauer and Katie Couric was reporting that a small plane or a helicopter had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The room hushed as we watched the life-changing news unfold together. As Matt Lauer and Katie Couric were beginning to speculate that it was a large passenger plane, another plane flew into the South Tower. It then became obvious that we were being attacked.
As we watched together in stunned silence, someone handed me the notebook that everyone had finished signing. One by one, I somberly read the names, checking them off, as they received their small grocery bag. Strangely, maybe miraculously, the names were much easier to read on that day. Handwriting was more legible. Foreign names sounded familiar and even familial. As I read, I did not once secretly roll my eyes, wince or make any judgments.
On that day they were not African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, Native-Americans, middle-class Americans or poor Americans. They were not “entitled,” “illegal,” and they were certainly not “aliens,” “trailer-trash” or “rag-heads.” They were neither rich nor poor, Muslim nor Christian, black nor white, educated nor illiterate, Democrat nor Republican, deserving nor underserving, gay nor straight, him nor her nor them. They were only Americans. They were my family. They were my sisters and my brothers. They were we.
On that day, I believe we were miraculously united by something that our divided country desperately needs today. On that day, it was not fear of another attack that made us one. It was not hate for the foreigner that unified us. It was love. It was the fulfillment of what Jesus called the greatest of all of the great commandments. On that day, if just for a few moments, we truly loved our neighbors as ourselves.
May God bless America and help us to love yet again.