Americans shoulder a unique burden. Whether we have earned it, we are the world’s leaders — culturally, politically, environmentally, intellectually, scientifically, militarily…
That’s a burden we all silently carry, like it or not.
Every one of us is weighted by a warming planet, drought, Jan. 6, school shootings, George Floyd’s murder, alarming social discord, Afghanistan, endless fires, teen suicide, COVID-19, inflation, political dysfunction and the next horror around the corner.
These are intractable problems — many of our own making — but as Americans we are also supposed to fix them. It’s a lot to bear — on top of just getting through the stresses of our own personal lives.
Sometimes we need a reminder of who we are as Americans. Former President George W. Bush gave us that reminder over the weekend, describing the brave passengers aboard United Flight 93 who stormed the cockpit of the hijacked plane headed for the White House or the U.S. Capitol.
They brought the plane down in a field, killing everyone on board, but denying the terrorists a fourth victory that awful day.
“Twenty years ago, terrorists chose a random group of Americans, on a routine flight, to be collateral damage in a spectacular act of terror. The 33 passengers and seven crew of Flight 93 could have been any group of citizens selected by fate. In a sense, they stood in for us all.
“The terrorists soon discovered that a random group of Americans is an exceptional group of people. Facing an impossible circumstance, they comforted their loved ones by phone, braced each other for action, and defeated the designs of evil.”
Investigators believe that the passengers aboard Flight 93 did the most American of things before giving their lives to save thousands and the most sacred institutions of our government: They held a vote. Then they did what they knew they had to do, fully aware they would die in the process.
As President Bush said, this “is the America I know.”
We can all learn something from the passengers aboard Flight 93. Addressing the endless parade of intractable problems before us does not mean throwing our hands in the air, abandoning our institutions, passing the buck to another generation, turning on each other or putting our heads in the sand.
Bush nailed it when he said the random group of Americans aboard Flight 93 “stood in for us all.”
Who among us would not have voted to storm the cockpit under those “impossible” circumstances?
Yes, we are capable of all manner of awfulness in this country, but when it really matters, we have a way of rising to the occasion.
Put yourself on that Flight 93, fully accepting that you would do the hardest thing that day.
Are any of the problems America faces today really so impossible?