BY GAYLE KIRSCHENBAUM | I remember when Americans stood side by side proudly waving our flag. I was among them. We lined West Street, the direct throughway that rescue vehicles took to get to Ground Zero. We came out every day for several months. I didn’t have far to go to get there. My home was on this busy and crucial road, just 30 blocks north of the Twin Towers.
I stood out there on 9/11/2001, witnessing our country being attacked with my dog by my side. I lifted her to run into my building and grabbed my video camera to document what soon followed. By 2 p.m. I got into a triage area to volunteer. The Red Cross converted a section of Chelsea Piers on the Hudson River in a few hours.
Doctors and nurses walked over from the local hospitals. I and other nonmedical volunteers were getting trained by the military. Stern and repetitive, making sure we would remember, the marine ran through the color-code tags.
“Red means they need immediate attention for survival,” he said. “Black is for the dead.” He continued as I made my decision. I’d stationed myself by the black, knowing I was more comfortable seeing death than witnessing a live, suffering bleeding person, as my family owned a funeral home.
We waited and waited. No one came. The following day when there was a call for clothing, manufacturers’ trucks unloaded cartons’ worth and people arrived carrying shopping bags stuffed with tops, pants and sweaters they took out of their closets.
Who attacked us? Who was this enemy? Who were these terrorists?
We would not let them defeat us.
In 2001, we came together — the rich, the poor, the black, the white, all ethnicities, whether your family was many generations in America or you were an immigrant. We were proud to display an American flag. New York City was peppered with them. Private cars, taxis, trucks all brandishing the red, white and blue flag. It represented freedom, the land of opportunity, the country our ancestors came to to seek a better life.
Our common enemy brought America together like Krazy Glue. No one could divide us. We were never going to let this happen again. No group, no enemy of the United States of America would ever be able to penetrate us. When one of us, one American died, we all felt the pain and loss. We were patriots, loyalists and fiery flag wavers.
Nineteen years later, what’s happened to our America? When I see an American flag displayed outside someone’s house, car or power boat, or used as a graphic for a face mask or T-shirts, I no longer get that pitter-patter feeling. Instead I feel a knot in my stomach. Today it seems like the flag has become intertwined with dissension, division and disunity.
We’ve gone from banding together in 2001 to being so divided and filled with rage that many of us are at each others’ throats.
I’ve “lost” family members and friends, though not due to COVID-19 illnesses. They “perished” from my life because we have opposing political views. During spring break in April, I commented about all the students gathering on the beaches in Miami with no masks or social distancing, which resulted in a COVID outbreak.
Even though my comments came strictly from a health concern, a relative gratuitously accused me of politically attacking the Republican Florida governor, who at that time allowed such gatherings. Can’t we all agree to disagree? I thought blood was thicker than water. When did politics become thicker than blood?
What happened to America, the country I was born into, the country my family came to just two generations back, fleeing persecution in their homeland?
“Our flag is not just one of many political points of view.
Rather, the flag is a symbol of our national unity.”
Adrian Cronauer, radio personality (1938-2018)
I want my country back, where we’re all united, standing together for liberty and justice for all.
Our polarized political climate has kidnaped America and stolen our flag.
Where is my America, the land of the free and the home of the brave? When will you come back? Are you lost? Can we bring you back and to a better America than we had? What do we need to do for us all to be proud of our country and our American flag — to no longer be fractured, broken and shattered? As Election Day approaches, I wait and I pray for not yours or mine, but for our America to return.
Kirschenbaum is an Emmy-winning filmmaker, TV producer and writer. To see her 2017 TEDx talk “No More Drama With Mama,” click here.