Archive for Monday, October 1, 2001

America draws on inner strengths

October 1, 2001


— Perhaps it's time to see, amid our nation's enormous grief, the potential for growth and hopeful change. Consider some examples:

Our understanding of what has meaning in life has deepened. Not only have loved ones been in contact, and long-unattended friendships been rekindled. Our heroes, at the moment, are neither the celebrities nor the tycoons whose work is so lavishly rewarded, but rather the people whose work has been taken for granted and modestly compensated the firefighters and law enforcement officers who risked and lost their lives to save others in the World Trade Center towers.

Sports figures and movie stars have been giving generously of their time to help heal the wounds. And they have talked of how dwarfed they feel by this tragedy, and of how it has reoriented their thinking.

"This whole week has been a 180-degree turnaround from football to life in general," a star college quarterback told The Washington Post. "As a young person, the country has always been an afterthought. It's always been about sports and having fun. The country is just here, and you're an American, but what has that ever meant before?"

We have found unity of identity and of purpose. Patriotism's comeback, of course, has been dazzling. Bipartisanship is everywhere. And people have come together across all lines of race and creed, as differences have been set aside and common cause embraced. As Sen. John Breaux, a Louisiana Democrat, put it: "Perhaps by working together in a way that we have not been able to do before, we will conclude that this is a good way of doing business. That is what the people have wanted. Politicians are sometimes the last to learn the lessons of politics."

Or, in the words of a Catholic University writing student quoted in The Washington Times: "We are black, white, Democrat and Republican, but we are family. And when the family is attacked, we stick together."

In a nation known among all democracies for its low voter turnout, politics and government suddenly matter. Even the comedians know it: "Who would have thought that I'd be angry on behalf of my country?" said Janeane Garofalo. "I'm used to being angry at my country."

We're getting out of ruts, shedding bad habits. The media, which have so drastically reduced foreign news and too often, even substantial public-affairs reporting are chock-full of the solid information Americans now understand they desperately need. Public service has for the moment, anyway trumped profits.

New York and Washington, twin national nemeses, are revealed as human as hometowns that deserve sympathy. "I've heard a lot of things about New York, so I've never wanted to visit there," an Indiana man told The New York Times. "But seeing how they came together, I want to go."

George W. Bush, whose presidential campaign rang with anti-Washington derision, now presides lovingly over a wounded capital, and comforts those who lost family at the Pentagon.

Why, our trains are even full both between and within metropolitan areas. And there's talk though much quieter than the talk of airline bailouts of raising the scant 1 percent of federal transportation spending that goes to Amtrak, the oft-maligned national rail service that brought thousands safely home that first week, accepting their airline tickets as train fare.

Our foreign policy has matured.

Where we had turned temporarily away from the critical importance of bringing a peaceful end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we are reminded once again of its centrality. Where we were foolishly tempted by isolationism and arrogance, we now reach out with a new understanding of our interlocking values and interests.

We have filled the position of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and, finally, paid our U.N. dues. And people now do care about foreign news: "The attacks have made me more aware that what is going on in the world affects me too, not just everyone else ... not just nameless faces across the world," wrote another of those Catholic University writing students.

Of course, we can't know what, out of all these good things, will last.

But that shouldn't keep us at this moment of terrible sadness from drawing strength from them.

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