Everyday life protects and heals after tragedies such as Sept. 11

September 12, 2006|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,Sun Columnist

It is five years and a day since the Twin Towers came crashing down, and everybody is pausing to take stock of where we are now, how we have changed.

I wrote five years ago that my life would not permit any fundamental changes in the aftermath of Sept. 11 -- I still had to get to the grocery store and pick up the kids from soccer. The mundane intrudes relentlessly, even on our worst days.

And it turns out, I was correct.

I am too busy to assess my personal terror level -- orange, yellow or red -- so I can't really say if I feel less safe or not. That seems like a luxury.

I haven't got the time to worry about whether my mall is safe from a suicide bomber or whether my water supply is vulnerable to bioterrorism. And I don't worry about my husband's airline travel -- except whether he will return in time to drive my daughter's stuff to college.

But I also wrote that I expected to love my family more earnestly, knowing what all those Sept. 11 families learned, that the simplest goodbye could be the last.

I couldn't sustain even that. I was arguing with the kids that very day. My son objected to my pitching in to report on the impact of the attack on the Naval Academy. He thought it might be a target and that I would be in danger.

It is a crazy irony that he ended up attending that institution. He didn't choose Navy because of Sept. 11. I think it was the structure that appealed to him, not the nation's new cause. But the fact is, his was the first class that knew what it was getting into.

He is off now, preparing to fight the war on terror that President Bush launched in the aftermath of that day, but I don't blame Sept. 11 for that, either. If it is not Iraq or Afghanistan, it would be some other battleground. My child is not safe, but Sept. 11 isn't the only reason.

To be honest, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Malvo, the Washington sniper team from the fall of 2002, frightened me more with their randomness than al-Qaida ever did, and that was a simple function of where I lived. Nobody in Kansas felt that way.

David Brooks, writing in The New York Times, said Sept. 11 changed the way he looks at the world. That it was no longer "a landscape of rolling hills. There were different nations, tribes and societies, but the slopes connecting those groups were gradual and hospitable."

This view of the world -- the result of a global economy, easy travel and easier communication -- has been replaced, he wrote, by a view "filled with chasms, crevices, jagged cliffs and dark forests. The wildernesses between groups seem stark and perilous."

In short, just when we thought everybody was wearing jeans and watching pirated American movies, the tribes of the world have turned on each other in a way we thought was no longer possible. Fundamentalists of every stripe are dividing us into angry, suspicious clans and sects, in this country as well as in the world, replacing globalization as the new world order.

But I still like my town and my neighborhood, and I love many of my neighbors. If the world has indeed broken into jagged shards -- like a shattered stained-glass window -- my world seems pretty much the same. And if a Muslim family moved in next door to me, I would probably be nicer to them because of Sept. 11. Have I changed in that way, or am I naive or a hypocrite?

I search my heart and my days for signs of Sept. 11. Surely a calamity that great -- and on our own soil -- should have rearranged the chromosomes of my life like dice spilled out of a cupped hand.

But it did not.

Five years after Sept. 11, the numbing busyness of everyday life -- which was our only defense against the devastation of that morning -- has settled in as a way to protect ourselves, a part of how we gird ourselves to face each new, uncertain day.

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

To hear audio clips of selected Susan Reimer columns, go to baltimoresun.com/reimer.

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