It's been eight years since 9/11 and much has changed in this country since that dark day.
What didn't change, however, was our inability to take time to reflect on the meaning and implications of this tragedy.
Instead, we panicked to the point that we still are unable to view the day clearly or logically, let alone respond to it responsibly. In some instances we have been willing to give up our civil liberties in the name of national security and fold against an aggressive presidency that was adamant about swooping up as much power as it could--ostensibly to protect us from the terrorists. The result? Terrorism has neither been reduced (as if it could be measured) nor have our fears of it subsided despite an investment of nearly $1 trillion on two wars. And now, after a year into the financial crisis, our uncertainties about jobs, health care and middle class life have only multiplied.
But let's look at one notable moment when people attempted to deal with the horror of 9/11: New Yorkers were helping each other and being nice to each other. They cried together and comforted one another in the midst of death and loss. Likewise, citizens from all over the world sympathized with America and genuinely felt badly that terrorism had come to our shores. It looked as if there might be a "great turning" response to violence.
But once the politicians and the media got a hold of 9/11, they resorted to the usual rallying cry for revenge and retaliation. Americans acquiesced by waving their flags and displaying them on their cars, their houses, on their lapels, everywhere. (One older German woman told me it reminded her of Hitler and the Nazis.) Such activity helps to win public support but it ended up a missed opportunity to respond to tragedy in a new and different way.
Truth be told, Americans don't deal well with tragedy. After the initial shock is over and the recovery effort begins, we generally resort to going on with our lives as though nothing happened. The fallout of this approach is that we are overcome by sadness, anger, fear, or denial over what has happened--and it stops there.