Living on the West Coast, I was not yet awake when the World Trade Center Towers were hit. It was not my custom to turn on the television until around 11:00 AM; so it was around 9:30 AM when I received a phone call from my daughter letting me know that not only had the towers been hit, but they had collapsed. I quietly, somberly and with a touch of disbelief replied, “This is an act of war.” Indeed it was, and it may have changed us irreparably.
Like tens of thousands of Americans, I was glued to the television that day. Some were undoubtedly frozen in their tracks. For others, life went on. In many ways I was amongst the latter, for later that day I received news by mail that was personally shattering. The juxtapositioning of the personal and the national has colored my perception of September 11th ever since.
While we waited to learn of the number of dead and injured, a number that might have been in the tens of thousands, I could not help but ask about the thousands of Americans who die each day, or who are severely injured in accidents, or who are diagnosed with a terminal illnesses. What of them and their families and friends?
Ten years later in a devastating economy that could have, should have, been prevented, I reflect on those who are homeless. I reflect on those who have lost employment and who remain unemployed struggling to survive. I reflect on those who live in poverty and who are dependent upon services paid by our tax dollars that have been cut and are likely to be slashed further.
And I ask, “Do Americans remain compassionate?” “Or do they simply react to ritual and feel their responsibility is complete?” We are likely to have the answer to those questions in the relatively near future. And, frankly, I’m growing dreadful of what that answer might be.
In response to the attacks on September 11, many people reacted with anger and sought revenge. Those reactions were understandable. But many of our leaders took these attacks as a cynical opportunity to manipulate us further down the path of American Imperialism. That path has cost lives and treasure well beyond what was lost on September 11, 2001.
We were told to “go shopping.” The finger was pointed at Saddam Hussein who had nothing to do with the attacks of 9-11. Afghanistan, home of Al Qaeda, became an afterthought. The wealthy were showered with tax cuts. Wars went unpaid for. Torture was afflicted.
The debt mounted, both financially and spiritually. The real American deficit resides in our souls. Somewhere around 20%, perhaps 25%, of our population adheres to the belief that if you have wealth, then God loves you because you are obedient to His will. But if you are needy and suffering, then that is evidence that you are disobedient to God and deserve your fate. Are the numbers of those who share those beliefs growing? I pray they are not.
So tomorrow, when the 10th anniversary is behind us, I encourage each and every one of us to ask ourselves, “Who are we really?” “Is there compassion and empathy left in our nature?” “Or do we suffer the moral turpitude that selfishness is morality and that morality is selfishness?”
We cannot change the damage that was done – by our enemies or by ourselves. But we can decide that we are better than our past, that we can rectify at least some of our past actions, that we can do much better in the future. Yet I wonder if we have slipped so far that our arrogance now drives not only who we are but who we will be.