September 11, 2001.
I was in Almaty, Kazakhstan when the news first broke. I was with some college-aged Kazakh and Russian students, and one of the other Americans in the room got a phone call from his wife that a plane had struck the twin towers. A while later, we got a phone call that a second plane had struck.
It was a moment that changed everything.
The following days were so odd, being an American after the 9/11 attacks, living overseas. People showed me care and empathy. They were as concerned as I was. It meant something to people that America had been struck. America stood for something, and the fact that America was suffering impacted people all over the world.
America stood for something.
For years, this idea has stuck with me. Why would people in Kazakhstan care about a terrorist attack a world away? Terrorism happens everywhere. What made this thing different?
Because America stood for something. America stood for freedom and opportunity and the little guy. America stood for all of us.
That’s what makes the last few years so difficult for a person living overseas.
Make America Great Again.
Slogans that sound great when you don’t consider the rest of the world. When you don’t consider that the rest of the world has been looking at us – whether we deserve it or not – as an ideal to be achieved.
But here’s the thing. “America first” and MAGA, are not American. Not by a long shot. These are not the ideals that inspired people around the world to feel our pain when we were going through 9/11.
We didn’t inspire the world by being selfish.
With all our faults, we inspired the world by embodying a different American ideal.
But did we? Did we really?
Because while we were trumpeting amazing values to the world, part of our society was being pushed back. While we were expressing freedom and democracy and all lives matter across the globe, Americans were being swept aside back home for nothing more than the color of their skin.
And everyone reading this knows what I’m talking about. We’ve all experienced it on one side or the other. Either you are white and you’ve judged others on some level by the fact they are not white, or you are not white and you’ve been judged because of it.
We have been one or we have been the other.
This is the big sin of America. We claim equality and justice for all, but many of us don’t live it. Not in our hearts.
We really don’t.
But we should.
And maybe we will.
Maybe that will be what comes from all of this. Maybe this will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in our hearts in the way we see each other. Maybe the absolute disaster of what is happening in our country right now will be the wakeup call that we need to truly live what we say we believe as Americans.
Maybe these times won’t tear us apart, but will draw us together.
Maybe they will make us look at ourselves in the mirror and be honest about what we see, regardless of how ugly the reflection might be.
Maybe being honest with ourselves might be the first step in making things better.
Maybe all of this will help us to recover the American ideal.
As an expat I can tell you that the world is watching, and hoping that we figure this out.
They’re hoping. I’m hoping.
Let’s figure it out.