Things aren’t quite as they should be around the country. Many of us are angry. Many of us are fearful for our safety, or that of our children. Many of us are worried about what the future will hold. Many of us are missing and mourning loved ones. Many of us are dead.
I initially wrote those words to be the opening of a Christmas 2001 piece that I never found my way to complete. I have revisited that draft many, many times, and it is of little surprise to me that they have not been rendered irrelevant by the passage of a decade. For all the smoke and noise that has gone on since that horrible Tuesday morning, what has been solved in the interim? What has been changed for the better? I don’t pretend to have my ear to the ground on any aspect of international affairs or military strategy, but from where I sit, it sure looks like we are all stuck in a spiral of violence and mutual destruction, with no exit in sight.
What way out can there be for us as a nation, as a people? Perhaps the even more pressing question, as the wheels of the next major election cycle are already in turn: are we still a nation, a people? Is there anything left of the American polity? Is there any salvaging the great experiment that has been these United States? The rancorous partisan nature of current political rhetoric, the hollow void at the heart of all the shrill electioneering, seems to leave little hope that these questions can be answered in the affirmative.
Does that mean that the terrorists have won? That question, at least, I feel confident in answering: no. No, it means that we have lost: lost our way, lost our soul, lost our sense of the common good. It is up to each and every one of us to determine if we can ever find any of those again. But time is not on our side in this: we need to do something, not soon, but now. With the exception of those few selfless heroes we still remember, all of us were helpless spectators the day the towers fell. That does not mean we have to be helpless spectators as our country falls apart.