My cousin Genny was to be married on September 15, 2001. Mary and I, and most of the out-of-town members of the family, were all going to fly in and celebrate the special day with my cousin and her fiance, and with each other.
We all know what happened that Tuesday.
Mary and I were, of course, upset by what had happened in this country, and maybe just a little more upset that there was a good chance that we wouldn't be flying out on Friday as planned to go to the wedding. All of the air traffic had been cancelled nationwide, and there was no idea when things would start up again. We weren't even sure whether the wedding was on. On Thursday night, Mary and I went ahead and packed, figuring we'd get up early on Friday morning, call AirTran, and find out if they were going. We called at 5 AM on Friday, and found out that yes, they were flying.
We flew into Midway Airport in Chicago, got our bags, picked up our rental car and were out of the airport minutes before they shut the airport down due to a Palestinian man who got scared when asked to produce his documentation and ran. Turns out it was a huge misunderstanding, but you couldn't blame people for being cautious.
My cousin was married at St. Ignatius Church, in Rogers Park on the north side of Chicago. We were staying out by O'Hare Airport, due west of the church. The easiest way to get to the church was straight across Devon Avenue. This route would take us through West Rogers Park, which, when I was growing up, was heavily Jewish, but now was a wild mix of people from all over the Arabian peninsula, southern Asia, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, you name it.
And I was stunned.
Every shop window had an American flag in it.
Every flagpole had an American flag on it.
People were walking down the street, wearing the red, white and blue on the traditional dress from their original countries.
More importantly, they were going about their business peacefully. Living and letting live. Even smiling and waving to one another.
I realized something: These people were Americans. They hadn't been born here, but they lived here now, they were a part of the culture, and THEIR COUNTRY HAD BEEN ATTACKED FOUR DAYS BEFORE. And they weren't happy about it, and they were feeling the pain of attack just as we were. Perhaps even more so, because they knew who had perpetrated the attacks, and they knew that they had come here to get away from all of that. They didn't want to live in that environment. They came here to get away from all that shit.
That may have been the most edifying experience I have ever had.
That, and the fact that my family didn't let the little matter of an aerial attack on the country interrupt their good time. Everyone made it, except for one uncle who lived not far from Ground Zero, but, as luck would have it, a cousin who had been traveling in Europe happened to be marooned in Chicago with her traveling companion, so, inappropriately dressed though they were, they were able to join us. (I doubt my mother would have understood.) My cousin from New Jersey, when he learned that his flight had been cancelled, rented an SUV and drove to Chicago. In a more reflective mood later, I thought, take that, you sons of bitches. Fuck with my family, will you? We're the fucking Connellys from Chicago. There's more of us, and we're meaner than you are, you bastards.
So, now you all know. If I get a little touchy about people running down this country, about people who want to spend all their time finding fault with this country (and I'm not denying that this country has its problems), about people who are ashamed to fly the flag and to love this country, warts and all, you now have an explanation.
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