Jewish World Review Sept. 11, 2003 / 14 Elul 5763
The changes were not what the terrorists had in mind
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | A few weeks ago my wife and I were on Cape Cod spending a few days with my late nephew's widow, Haven, and her two little boys, Jackson, 3, and Parker, 1.
"Do you see Karleton in the boys?" Haven asked.
I didn't say this to her quite so directly, but in many ways I see Karleton everywhere - and have since his plane from Boston to Los Angeles, American Airlines Flight 11, slammed into the World Trade Center two years ago.
I see him in certain facial expressions of his sons, one of whom he never got to meet. I see him in the way his first cousins, my daughters, smile and laugh. I see him alarmed and panicked in his airline seat (20-J) each time I board a plane or hear one passing overhead.
I see his handsome, joyful face in the faces of his parents - my sister and her husband - and in my nieces, Karleton's two sisters. And I see his passion for life in Haven's remarkable determination to honor him by living life fully in spite of her unspeakable loss.
This sort of experience is not mine alone. Since the Sept. 11 hijackers, motivated by the evil of distorted religion, murdered more than 3,000 people, families all over the country also are learning to live without people they cherished, even as they remember them every day. And because the war on terrorism moved into Afghanistan and then Iraq, many other innocent families have suffered horrific losses that now are shaping how they live, too.
Some people reacted to Sept. 11 by promising to change their lives so they could concentrate on what is really important instead of what only pretends to satisfy. And a few people have actually done that.
In recent days, for instance, the news wires have carried stories of a New York fashion designer who chucked it all to lead a volunteer organization and of a banker who quit a boring job to start her own company in honor of her brother and fiance, both of whom died on Sept. 11.
But there were many more promises of change than there were actual changes. Many of us merely did what the Rev. Robert Lee Hill of Kansas City, Mo., described doing in his poem, "Will and Testament: September 12, 2001," published in his new book, "Hard to Tell." Hill listed two pages of things he promised to do, from making the bed to making an appointment with his dermatologist, from working with his hands in his yard to ringing a bell.
We make lists. Then we lose them. We make promises. Then we forget them. Our intentions are honorable, our actions negligible.
And yet there was something so profound about Sept. 11, something so momentous that it has shaped all of us in permanent ways.
For the most part, however, the changes were not what the terrorists had in mind. They imagined us renouncing our values and adopting theirs. They could almost taste the ashes of remorse in our mouths as - stunned by the destruction they visited on symbols of our rotted culture - we repented of the freedom we suddenly realized has led us to wanton depravity.
But that wasn't what happened at all. Rather, we have come to understand in our marrow how fragile life is and how much is at risk every day. We know now that even shoes can be lethal weapons. We know box-cutters can kill, plain envelopes can contain deadly toxins, bad ideas can lead impressionable young people to throw away their lives as suicide bombers for causes that, whatever their merits, they barely understand.
We also know that even as Americans struggled to recover from the blow Sept. 11 inflicted on the economy, they became the victims of rapacious corporate executives who looted their companies, defrauding stockholders, employees and customers.
So because of Sept. 11, we see some things more clearly. We see evil for what it is. We see our frailties, vulnerabilities and waywardness with greater clarity. And most of all we know more certainly that love is worth the risk of losing the ones we love. We understand, thus, what 19th-century English writer Samuel Butler meant when he urged us to love, even though "all reason is against it," because, he said, "all healthy instinct (is) for it."
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