Monday, September 10, 2012

On a perfect Tuesday morning

Eleven years ago ordinary people went about their business on an ordinary Tuesday morning. Before the day was over, many were dead and America forever changed.

Thousands of people in New York, Virginia, and a field in Pennsylvania made the ultimate sacrifice, casualties in a war few knew we were fighting.

In the days, months, and years following the 9/11 attacks, America came together. During the immediate aftermath, we watched, numbed by horror, as abominations of the attack were revealed in dreadful detail. Our hearts beat as one in grief for the dead, for our country, for our future.

The wanton slaughter of ordinary people and the firefighters, police officers, and EMS providers, who tried to save them, will forever be etched on our consciousness. Our generosity shined bright as we collected money for the survivors of the lost, knowing too well that money cannot fill the hole in a life left by a departed spouse, parent, or child.

Flags were everywhere. We went out of our way to thank firefighters, EMS folk, and law enforcement officers across the country. We understood that they stand between us and calamity every day.

We wanted revenge. Our most valuable treasure—the men and women of America’s military—was sent to foreign lands in pursuit of an ethereal enemy. There was a measure of retribution, but the cost was enormous.

During the ensuing years, we’ve adjusted to a new normal. We’re not quite as free as we used to be, but rationalize that this is for our protection. We remove our shoes and watch our carry-ons searched as we go through airport security, praying that no fellow passengers have secreted a bomb in their checked luggage. Some of us “close our eyes and think of America” as we are pulled aside and “patted down” by TSA officials.

As a nation trained to expect instant gratification, we’ve grown weary of an extended shadow war with few battles and too much maiming, whose justification we’ve forgotten, if we ever knew.

We wonder if the absence of terror attacks since 9/11 was luck, or the result of hard work by people who toil in obscurity to foil the bad guys.

As an inherently good people, we argue about locating a mosque near Ground Zero rather than prohibiting it outright. We want to think the best of everyone, but cannot squelch suspicion when a young couple, she in a head scarf, chat in a foreign language as they point and smile at lower Manhattan.

We pause to remember the fallen, and pay homage to the police, firefighters, and EMS responders, who see us at our worst and always give us our best. If we cannot rekindle the spark of unity forged in grief and anger eleven years ago without the catalyst of catastrophe, what has America become since that perfect Tuesday in September?

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