Monday, September 11, 2006

How fragile we are

Some called it "the day that changed America forever."

Five years ago today, a band of nineteen outlaws piloted jet airplanes into New York City’s World Trade Center and the seat of American military power, the Pentagon. Another jet, bound for the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. plowed into a field in Pennsylvania. At the end of the day, 3,000 lives had been lost, the second and third tallest buildings in the United States had been reduced to rubble, and a nation had been traumatized.

As the fifth anniversary of September 11, 2001 arrives, what’s changed?

Not much, it seems. Want proof? Think about it — what was the biggest story in the news this week? The war against al-Qaeda? Airport security? The potential threat of biological or nuclear attack? Nope — what’s had America buzzing the loudest is the unfortunate death of Australian TV personality Steve Irwin, and heiress Paris Hilton’s drunk driving arrest.

In the aftermath of what we have come to call "9/11," life in these United States has continued pretty much apace. Sure, the check-in lines are a little longer at the airport, but in my experience, airport lines have always been interminably long. It takes a few minutes more to enter a ball game or amusement park, and you can’t take as much stuff in with you as you formerly could. I can live with that. I believe most people can. But has the substance of our lives changed? Not so you’d notice.

I don’t mean to minimize the loss experienced by those whose loved ones died in the terrorist attacks. Without question, their lives were irrevocably altered. But in a materially different way than anyone else who’s had a family member murdered, or killed in an accident, or succumbed to a painful illness? Not really, no. Granted, not everyone’s death is replayed ad nauseum on the evening news. But still, death is death, and will be mourned no matter who, or how many, die.

Many speculated that the tragedy of 9/11 would turn more people to religion. Perhaps it did, momentarily — to that brand of religion that offers gentle homilies and smooth platitudes while demanding no true moral conversion or spiritual growth. That effect, like the effect of all self-centered and materially based religion, fades quickly, like dew evaporating off the hood of a car in summer. I haven't seen any evidence that more people are seeking genuine truth, or that people have been motivated to significantly change their approach to spiritual things. We remain as shallow and superficial a people as we ever were.

Which is too bad, really.

Human beings are remarkably — or perhaps the word is notoriously — reluctant to change. We manifest an uncanny resistance against doing or becoming anything different from what we’ve always done or been. Even the most horrific events in the world around us rarely improve us for very long. And even the sternest warnings of possible disaster fail to cause us to redirect our behavior.

We always seek the silver lining in dark clouds, the happy outcome of every tragic event. That’s why, I think, Americans want to believe that the evil perpetrated on September 11, 2001 has made us a better country. We’d like to hope that out of such bitter catastrophe some good might come. First, though, we’d have to be willing to change.

And that, my friends, ain't gonna happen.

I still believe Sting said it best...

If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one
Drying in the colour of the evening sun
Tomorrow's rain will wash the stains away
But something in our minds will always stay
Perhaps this final act was meant
To clinch a lifetime's argument
That nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could
For all those born beneath an angry star
Lest we forget how fragile we are

On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star
Like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are
How fragile we are

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