The Ties that Bind

9 year-old shooting victim Christina Taylor Green was born on September 11, 2001, and killed last Saturday.

As President Obama said, “here was a young girl just becoming aware of our democracy...." 

"She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted," the president said.

He was right. For while I want to live up to Christina’s expectations, while I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it, I am much older than she and it has become difficult to see past the cynicism and vitriol.

As one reader posted on “It’s A Free Country,” during Brian Lehrer’s coverage and call-in, after the memorial service and the President’s remarks, Thursday: “It’s a breath of fresh air to hear a discussion about what unites us, instead of what divides us. Why does it always take a tragedy to bring this home?”

A tragedy, indeed. Christina Taylor Green was born on 9/11. I was born thirty five years before that, on September 10, 1964. I remember the feeling of good will that captured the country. I recall the way the country came together around a common sense of decency, honor and sense of purpose. 

9/11 is the experience that binds us, will continue to bind us for decades and will define us for centuries. It was a singularly unifying event.

I was at Ground Zero on that day, as a journalist, covering the attacks and their aftermath, and I returned for days and weeks, indeed months, covering the story with my colleagues. For me, however, the story was not just a matter of professional responsibility of the highest magnitude — it was also deeply personal. 

I grew up downtown, in the shadow of the Twin Towers. A child of Lower Manhattan, my earliest childhood memories are of visits to the construction site with my father, an architectural engineer. My parents live there still. 54-year residents of the same Mitchell-Lama housing development on the East River, they were among those who fled in the white ash. My mother says she still finds dust in hidden corners of their apartment — nearly ten years later.

So, like Arizonans this week, I was deeply affected by the events nearly ten years ago. I remember the same blanketing sense of community that fell over Americans in the wake of 9/11— the mutual helping hand, the spirit of service. I remember talking with friends and family about how long it would last, believing for one beautiful moment in time that it would become a permanent part of American culture, the new fabric of our lives. 

But it did not.

That is why I am bracing for the disappointment I know will eventually arrive when we wake up one morning, in the not too distant future, to the fact that we are still human — that though constantly reach for the better side of our natures, we can still be petty, political and intolerant.

In weeks, or months, or dare I say perhaps even in just a few days, even our leaders will revert to their fundamental human natures, forever affected by the events of that awful day but fundamentally unchanged — selfish, short-sighted, partisan.  

So what are the ties that bind us in America? Are they simply cynicism and skepticism. Of course not. The greatest tie that binds is the belief that the United States can be as good as Christina imagined it. I, for one, believe it can be. That is the ideal.

We may disagree about how to get there. But we must work to end the partisanship, to restore the unity that has been increasingly elusive this week, as each day has brought harsh condemnations from the left and the right. For Christina's memory and for the future of her generation, we must work to make that ideal a reality, though in reality the ideal is not yet realized.

Jami Floyd is a broadcast journalist and legal analyst for cable and network news, and is a frequent contributor to WNYC Radio. She is former advisor in the Clinton administration and served as a surrogate for the Obama campaign on legal and domestic policy issues.