The next time you’re out in bright, direct sunlight, take a close look at your arm. Really look closely at your skin – you’ll be astonished (and, I hope, delighted) by what you see.
Our skin is made up of a million different colors. When I look at mine this way, I see pink, and I see brown. There’s blue, and bits of red. There’s even a hint of green. And it sparkles – not like the vamps in Twilight – but yes, there’s a glittery sheen. It’s fascinating and beautiful.
I think about how color is simply a phenomenon of reflected and absorbed light, how my eyes perceive color based upon how my retina processes the image. My skin has no color, and it has all the colors. The overall color I perceive is dependent on qualities of light and the anatomy of the eye.
And it has no inherent meaning. It has only the meaning we attach to it, the meaning we’ve been conditioned to attach to it.
Take a closer look. It’s really quite beautiful.
“It’s an extraordinary tale … of resilience, of survival, of courage, of love. For me, this is the legacy of 9/11.” – Gédéon Naudet
All morning, I’ve been seeing memes on social media: pictures from September 11, 2001, with the caption “never forget.”
Those of us who were around on that day will never forget what we heard and saw. For me, it happened like this: I was at my desk in my office at Lake Superior State University. I received an email from a friend in New Jersey saying that one of the trade towers had been hit by a plane. I responded, “What a horrible accident.”
I knew that commercial planes were not allowed to fly at low altitude over NYC, so I assumed it was some small, private craft that had accidentally crashed, possibly injuring or killing the pilot. Certainly such an event would be an accident.
My friend emailed me again (keep in mind, these were the days before social media as we know it now). “The other tower has been hit by another plane!” she said. “There’s speculation that it’s a terrorist attack! Get to a television!”
I quickly opened my internet and looked on cnn.com. I couldn’t make sense of what I was reading there. These *were* commercial planes, planes that had been hijacked? Well then, of course the hijackers would have let the passengers off (it was their suicide mission, after all). But no, innocent, everyday people had been on those planes, and had lost their lives. As had many in the towers, and on the ground.
I ran over to the library, where a television had been set up on the first floor. Dozens were crowded around, watching the news unfold, all in a state of disbelief. We couldn’t even get our heads around what was happening, because it was unthinkable. When the first tower collapsed, someone said “you guys, we just watched hundreds of people die.”
It doesn’t seem like 16 years ago. It seems like yesterday.
So, back to my original question: what, exactly, should we “never forget?” That day, many of us felt a hatred and anger we’d never experienced before, a desire for revenge, for retribution. There was fear, and rage, and despair. But then, something else happened.
We saw our country, and the whole world, come together in a spirit of community. “Look for the helpers,” Mr. Rogers always said, and they were everywhere: handing bottled water and sandwiches to exhausted rescue crews, donating to charities for the victims’ families, honoring public servants. For a time, we were kinder to each other. Small disagreements seemed petty. We found safety and peace in the idea that most people are good, and look out for each other.
As you go through this day, people will tell you to “never forget.” You can choose what you will remember from that sunny, blue-sky day when everything changed forever. Some will choose to remember the rage, the cries for revenge, the hatred. As for me, I remember the kindness, the love, the sense of community that unfolded before my eyes. Our nation was weakened that day, but we found our strength.
That community can still be our strength.
Stay in the light,
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Click on the link below for a reading of the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale.
I hope that all of us – including my students – will take up this challenge. It’s not a formal assignment, and it won’t be graded (at least, not by me). Your “grade” will be reflected in your quality of life, relationships, and sense of self.
I want all of us to make a concerted effort this year to befriend someone different from ourselves.
If you’re a liberal, make friends with someone whose beliefs are conservative. If you’re religious, befriend someone who questions, or disbelieves, the existence of God. If you are American, make a new friend who grew up in another land.
I’m not here to tell you that we’re more alike than we are different. Sometimes our differences are vast, and we should honor them. But we need to talk to one another, and more importantly, to really listen. To see each other as companions on the journey, wherever we started from, wherever our ultimate destination.
Challenge yourself to find that new friend, and to open your mind. That’s our assignment, and I hope we all earn the highest marks.