Twenty years ago, yes twenty years, our lives changed forever.  When those terrorists without a soul, with evil and hate in their hearts chose to attack innocent people who were just going about their lives and sent a message to America and the world that life is not precious and never guaranteed.  We all remember, at least those who were born before 1995, where we were, when we heard, and how much fear was infused into the air that we breathe.  It remains one of the most tragic, heart wrenching, stomach churning, and depressing, events of our lives.  Something that we never will and never should forget. 

It is likely that each of knows someone who died on that day, whether on a plane, in an attacked building, or doing their job trying to save others.  Those memories are branded into our subconscious.  One of my former students, Chris Carstanjen, was on the second plane that was flown directly into the twin towers.  I still think of him and what must have been going through his mind at that moment.  He was simply in route to the west coast for a well-deserved vacation. 

The emotions that we collectively felt became a unifying introduction to twenty years of a changing America.  At first, we came together to share in our grief and to help everyone make sense of the act and find a way to breathe again.  Then that unity opened the door to anger, a need for revenge, political divide, a lack of trust, a tendency among some to find blame in conspiracy theories, loads of hate and calls for isolation.  To a large degree, the challenges that we face today had many of their roots in this one day in history.  Is our great divide whether political, spiritual, ethnic, or social somehow connected to the fear, anger, and uncertainty that was sparked on a day of national trauma?  

We are a country so divided that America is somewhat hard to recognize.  This is not the country that I remember as a youngster, this is not the country that my parents would have recognized and certainly not the country that my father, grandfather, uncle, and father-in-law fought to protect and defend in the first two world wars.  This is certainly not the country that those who built our democracy would remember. 

After twenty years of continued fighting, disruption of countries, trillions of dollars spent, and countless lives lost – we finally recognized that ending the fighting was the only logical outcome.  All the fighting, all the tragedy of 20 years did not really change anything.  So, on this anniversary of 9/11 we must all wonder what are we doing?  If America continues to entrench in individual beliefs whether based on fact or contrived fiction, where will we end up?  Is it possible that our collective mistrust of everything, our collective belief that there is something sinister going on behind everything, our collective willingness to push aside the conclusions and work of highly competent, world-class scientists in favor of idiots spewing conspiracy theories on social media, our total distrust of our democratic system by many average Americans and even those who represent us, can be connected to that date in 2001?

Did 9/11 uncover the worst of us or the best of us?  It remains one of the most tragic days in our history – a day when our guard was down and evil triumphed, at least for a moment in time.  The question is – are we going to allow that evil to change what America is(was) all about?  This great country was always a beacon of light for others, a place where the magic of the people and where sound majority beliefs determined how we would act.  A place where we all had an opportunity to express our beliefs knowing that the scrutiny of the truth would prevail, but also relishing the opportunity to have an opinion.  America has always been a place of civilized discourse but also where facts were accepted, where educators were respected, where experts in a field of study were admired, where the news was the news and not filled with a table full of talking heads, where what was in print could be trusted because we had controls in place and ethics aligned to make sure that before it was said, it was verified.  I remember that country – do you?

This week I will shed another tear for those people who lost their lives on September 11, 2001 – especially Chris Carstanjen.  I will remember, with respect, all the firemen, police officers, and volunteers who risked their lives to search for others and who continue to die today because of the toxins they were exposed to.  This week I will remember all the young men and women, military and civilian who lost their lives as a direct or indirect consequence of 9/11 and the wars that followed.  This is a week to remember and respect, but it should also be a week where we self-assess and ask the question: “Are we going to let evil win?”

This week chefs and cooks can pay respect to all those who have suffered and perished directly or indirectly from the trauma of 9/11 and help to bring people together in the spirit of the America that the world held so high, for so long. We can do this by preparing food from the heart and the soul and breaking bread with others.  Do so with respect for all people and in direct defiance of evil.  We hold in our hands, the means to bring people together of all walks of life, all nationalities and beliefs, and all traditions and perspectives.  I can think of no better way to honor all whom we have lost.  I will cook for the memory of Chris Carstanjen this weekend.  What will you do?


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