Like all New Yorkers, I remember September 11th, 2011 as if it were yesterday: Azure blue sky, pleasant breeze in the air. I was in an office meeting on Staten Island, and the windows of the conference room faced in the direction of Manhattan.
I remember catching the sight of the thick black smoke out of the corner of my eye, so striking against the flawless summer sky. Looking back, I realize what a perfect visual metaphor that black-on-blue was for 9/11 as a whole: A completely unexpected puncture in the midst of a ‘business as usual’ bubble existence.
We as humans like ‘business as usual.’ The proverb “May you live in interesting times” is a curse for a reason. But ‘business as usual’ is not a well from which to draw profound life lessons. Tragedy has the potential to teach; that is, if we remember the lessons learned from the tragedy and carry them back into our more cocooned, ‘normal’ existence.
New Yorkers can only describe the days following 9/11 as surreal. We New Yorkers are stereotyped as brusque, aggressive individualists, and I think I have the right to say there’s often truth in that particular stereotype.
After September 11, however, people would stop and talk to total strangers to ask how they were faring, a reenactment, if you will, of the heroic protective instinct so evident among the people in the eye of the attack. American flags were displayed everywhere: On homes, cars, storefronts. Places of worship were filled. We came together in a way that we hadn’t since the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War forever changed what it meant to be an American community.
That changed, and to some extent that’s only to be expected. Yet I can’t help but wonder whether 9/11 still holds the potential to change the direction of our culture in a positive way.
Since the 1960’s, many of us distrust too much community, no one more than we Baby Boomers, who grew up watching how our “Father Knows Best” American communities could conceal terrible injustices. So we followed the example of Jerry Rubin, first in protesting the Man, then in retreating into ‘self-actualization’ to find our own Man (and Woman) in the 1970’s. When all the psychobabble and ‘getting loose’ became clichéd and silly, we didn’t abandon the individualistic core at the center of this new worldview, we simply changed clothes: Hippie and disco chic were out, power suits and shoulder pads were in. Money, unlike free love and drugs, was at least productive, right? We found a way to be radical individualists and faithful daughters and sons of the Protestant Work Ethic at the same time. It was the perfect reconciliation.
And I would argue that’s where we’ve been ever since. With the exception of 9/11. When it seemed that we felt safe to be a neighborhood again. To be ‘we’ instead of ‘I, me, and myself.’
I don’t have a blueprint for how we could or should go forward as a country and community. Let the tenth anniversary of September 11th do that for each of us in our own way (like true individualists!) If that helps us build community in a positive way for the new century, though, then I can’t help but feel that would be a lesson learned.
LifeNews.com Note: Janet Morana is the executive director of Priests for Life and the co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness campaign helping women who have been hurt by abortions to speak out.