September 11, 2011, 12:02 pm
I’m at Buffalo Wild Wings waiting for Dave’s ass to get here for the kick-off. On TV, they’ve unfurled an impressive United States flag that covers the entire field. The mood is quiet, solemn, poignant, almost awkward even, and I’m bracing myself for that wave of sadness to wash over me, the strange vibrations of sorrow that penetrate my heart whenever bagpipers play “Amazing Grace” or whenever it’s midnight at New Year’s and the balloons come down and “Auld Lang Syne” starts playing, I’m thinking all of these things are going to be stirred up inside my soul, tugging at my strings, until: Jim Cornelison comes from out of nowhere and sings the motherfucking shit out of the National Anthem! Good God does he sing it. And not in the stylized, eight-octave range of vocal virtuosity that has become the norm these days, the “hey look at me I’m Christina Aguilera, fluttering my fingers on the microphone like a douche bag as my voice goes up and down and around” routine. This man is just singing about his country.
You know how most people wait until “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” to start cheering and applauding? Today, right when Jim Cornelison aggressively belts out the words “Oh say can you see,” the entire stadium erupts. I mean they’re going absolutely nuts! They’re roaring!
I’m stunned. Like, one minute, I feel kind of tentative and sad. The next minute my heart is leaping through my chest and I’m ready for some motherfucking football and Lovie Smith and Brian Urlacher are looking at each other on the TV, smiling, feeling even more pumped up than I am, and I just feel so sure of myself all a sudden. I feel like anything is possible. Like the economy will improve. Like terrorism will end. Like Devin Hester will run the kickoff back for a touchdown on the first play of the game.
It’s like, for a second there, the ugly memories from ten years ago all came rushing back, and we’re not sure what to do, and then Jim Cornelison kind of shrugs and stares down bin Laden’s ghost and gives him the ultimate “eff you, I’m doing this MY WAY.”
I look around the restaurant. Dave’s ass still isn’t here yet. I look back at the TV and the fans are screaming, players are screaming, and I am screaming. I’m alone at my table and I bang on the top of my table and I scream, “FUCK YEAH!”
That is what loving this country is all about. I don’t really think about the explosions hundreds of feet from the ground, the debris, the sickening collapse and the smoke and the dust and the sirens and the people sobbing in desperation. I think about the moments after all that shit, when we all kind of forgot about everything for a minute there and took the time to let go and just high five each other.
I had intended on this being an out-of-sequence diary of the most patriotic moments of my life, like the night I marched down Michigan Avenue with thousands of others, chanting OBAMA! OBAMA! after he had won the election, after he’d made Jesse Jackson and Oprah cry and then gave a speech that made us feel like the previous eight years were distant memories. Or like in elementary school when these kids at recess asked me what I was, and I said What do you mean, and they were like, You know, are you Chinese, Japanese? What are you? and I looked down, then shook off my confusion and told them I was an American. Or like on September 12, 2001, when I called my sister and we talked for about an hour on the phone, and we didn’t really discuss what had happened at all; I just told her to be good and don’t be scared because Bush was going to make sure we got those fuckers. Or like in high school when I was going through my Nietsche phase and read Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States” all in one angry weekend and the next Monday, when I had the Arawak tribe on my mind, I took a Sharpie marker and wrote “COLUMBUS = HITLER” in the men’s bathroom stall. I was going to write in detail about all that stuff, but it turns out none of this is really important. Jim Cornelison got it right, and the fans at today’s Bears game got it right. The only thing you’re supposed to feel on a day like today is pure exhilaration. Because what happened ten years ago happened ten years ago, and the only thing left is a good game of football, great friends, and delicious hot wings.
I can’t say I will ever know exactly what the early settlers or our Founding Fathers or Lewis and Clark or any of those other guys were thinking back then about our country and its future, but I’m sure they believed that the edge of the world was never a stone’s throw away, that the vastness of this undiscovered country wasn’t just limitless in a geographical sense, but also an emotional one.