Weather Updates

Ten years later: What does it all mean?

Sept 11 9/11 ground zero

Sept 11, 9/11, ground zero

storyidforme: 17978958
tmspicid: 6534697
fileheaderid: 3021466
Article Extras
Story Image

Updated: November 9, 2011 1:47PM

Radical Islamic terrorists attacked not only the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, but more important, everything we hold dear in this country.

Still, did the shocking mass slaughter of American lives that day, a truly cataclysmic historical moment, shake us to the core enough to linger 10 years later?

Or did our status return to quo many years ago? And have most us returned to business as usual amid our now dusty, faded feelings of that day’s rage, fear and grief?

On a global or historic stage, that tragic day could be interpreted as the beginning of the end for us as a country. Our slow, bleeding death by 1,000 stabbings. The end of an empire, as we ignorantly continue to whistle through the graveyard of our own arrogance.

Today is the perfect time and a poignant opportunity – on the 10th anniversary of the attacks – to ask if we, as Americans, learned any profound lessons since that time. Somewhere amid all the rubble and rabblerousing of the endless media accounts taking place today (and this past week), doesn’t it come down to, “What does it all mean?”

Have we changed our world outlook, our intolerance of diversity, our understanding of foreigners, including Muslims? Have we become less trusting and more fearful? Have we attacked more shadows than enemies this past decade?

On a more tangible plane of understanding, do we still instinctively suspect an abandoned briefcase may contain explosives? Do we still question if anthrax is in our mail? Did anyone even cancel their commercial air flight for today?

Sure, it would be refreshing to believe that we were dramatically, if not profoundly, affected when those hijacked airplanes crashed into our lives. We’d like to think our daily routines, our life’s priorities, our personal worlds, were forever changed by those attacks.

But, for most Americans, I’m convinced that not much has changed since Sept. 11, 2001. Our lives were “touched, yet untouched” as poets and philosophers have said through the centuries. Life marches on, into the daily abyss of errands, duties and responsibilities.

Yes, we still glance twice at news accounts on global terrorism, international developments, and homeland security measures. Yes, we take notice of possible future terrorist attacks, such as the recent news of a “credible terror threat” for today. And we mourn the soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, sparked by the events of that day.

We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t.

But our daily orbits have ever-so-gradually returned to pre-Sept. 2001 American pursuits, like shopping for things we don’t need, making sure our grass is greener than our neighbor’s, and complaining about how we’re just too busy for volunteering duties.

Copout or coping mechanism?

One year after the attacks, an expert told me that the “war on terror” was never sold to Americans as a truly motivating factor in our daily lives. I agreed then. I still agree now.

We were only “mobilized” once after that day, to donate blood and money. We did both. And then, for the most part, we moved on. But not without the stinging memory of what happened rattling around in our psyches.

The most noticeable changes in our daily lives have come via air travel and its upgraded security measures. Yes, the Patriot Act and its far-reaching implications have many Americans up in arms, and rightfully so.

But similar to that proverbial frog in the pot of boiling water, we remain content just barely enough to remain in the pot. Flame? What flame?

A few days after the attack in New York City, I visited Ground Zero for a few days for my job and, on the day I left, I approached a hurried businessman on Park Avenue. I asked if he would mind snapping a quick photo of me, as a keepsake.

At first he was hesitant, like he was being scammed. But then he loosened up.

“OK,” he said, as he adjusted my disposable camera. “Say s - - t!” he said, smiling from ear to ear.

It was at that moment when I figured the city would be just fine. And so would our Kodak moment country, in time, after the initial flash of the attacks wore off.

Today, there will be a plethora of 10-year anniversary ceremonies, prayer vigils, church masses, minutes of silence, and renewed promises of hope and healing. These will prompt reflection – heartfelt reflection, yes, but only reflection – not any sort of profound change, I believe. Reflection demands thought. Change demands action.

Heck, most of us don’t even pause for thought or thanks after meeting a firefighter anymore.

A few days ago, leading up to my writing of these 9/11 columns, I watched yet another documentary of the attacks. This one was just as gripping, just as horrifying, just as touching.

But after a few minutes of it, I turned the channel to something less dramatic and more escapist. Maybe that’s what we sometimes do, as Americans, as humans, as survivors. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism. Maybe it’s a copout. Maybe it’s both.

Essentially, we’re the same people we were a decade ago, before the public promises of selflessness and the quiet resolutions to ourselves. In late 2001, President Bush urged us to live our normal lives, to go shopping, and to get back to work. So we did.

Maybe it’s because we’re human first and American second. Maybe it’s because old habits are hard to break. Or maybe it’s because even our sincerest attempts at selfless transformation come second to America’s true national pastime – catering to ourselves.

Agree? Disagree? Voice your opinion (a freedom we often take for granted) on my blog at , or call or e-mail me directly.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.