Jewish World Review Jan. 8, 2001 / 24 Teves 5762
"Yeah, I'm not flying as much," he told me. "But I'm getting reacquainted with my kids. I can get more business. I can't get these kid years again."
Ah, yes. At the dawn of a new year, we're beginning to see what the New Normal looks like in our new era of terrorism. So far, it's not so bad. At least, it is not as bad as a lot of us feared it would be.
Who would have predicted during the trauma and tragedy of 9-11 that we Americans would be entering the New Year marveling at how much the country and, in many cases, our own lives, have improved? Not I.
My rose-colored glasses fogged over amid the tears of 9-11. No matter how many times I tried to mutter the usual mantra that "everything happens for a reason," this attack was too monstrous and its casualties too tragic for me to hope that anything positive could come out of it.
Yet, most Americans -- 63 percent -- say the country has "permanently changed for the better" as a direct consequence of the 9-11 attacks, according to an ABC News-Washington Post poll. More than half of respondents to the poll, which was released on New Year's Day, also said the tragedy had "transformed their own lives" for the better. Only 25 percent, most of them in the East, felt the country had changed for the worse.
Eight out of 10 respondents called their personal outlook for the new year "more hopeful," while only 16 percent were "more fearful."
As the mourning begins to fade and we try to get on with our lives, Americans are finding that we have many blessings to count. Our military's actions have been swift and effective. We were largely reassured, regardless of past political differences, by the near-instant transformations of President Bush and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani from joke material into true leaders in the model of Winston Churchill pulling the British together under German bombardment.
Many ordinary citizens reassured us further by their great sacrifices and heroic acts. The list begins, but hardly ends, with the fallen police and firefighters at the World Trade Center and the passengers who thwarted the fourth plane's hijacking. It includes every American who responded to adversity with a side that many of us had forgotten or wondered whether we had anymore. Tom Brokaw coined the term "The Greatest Generation" for veterans of the Great Depression and World War II. This younger generation turns out not to be so bad, either, faced with a worthy cause.
In our grief and confusion, we turned for a time, at least, back to houses of worship, reconnecting with friends and family, and a lot of self-reexamination. We looked back the way survivors do through the windows of our lives to see what we had with a burglar's eye, an eye that makes us more appreciative of the people and possessions we usually take for granted.
After months of slow news in which sharks and dangling chads became major issues, we were yanked suddenly into the truly momentous changes in the world. Suddenly, Americans who like to think of foreign relations as something we do for other people, were shocked into two bracing truths: 1) Our primary purpose on the world stage has to be our own national defense and 2) the mere fact that you are the richest, most powerful and the most culturally influential nation is enough to make strangers want to hurt you.
We will continue to feel better as long as there are no further major terror attacks against us. But we also can see an important model of the New Normal in terror suspect Richard Reid's foiled sneaker-bombing. The crew and passengers on his flight apparently foiled the attack, because, while going about their normal, everyday lives, they were alert to the new dangers in the world.
After 9-11, terrorists have lost a major chunk of their big advantage -- the element of surprise. We are a more alert nation now, enriched by a new awareness of the world's dangers and our own capabilities. Although we picked up this new awareness in the worst way, through tragedy and heartache, we are a better people for having learned
12/18/01: Whatever happened to questions about the birds and the bees?