Everything has changed. Nothing has changed. It's strange how both seem true for the average American. Not those directly affected by the events of September 11th, certainly, but for the rest of us. We who cannot smell the still smoke-filled air in lower Manhattan, whose loved ones did not perish in those horrific days, who have no relative or friend fighting in Afghanistan.
The rest of us seem to be existing in parallel worlds: the one where we know, intellectually, that we are a nation "at war," but that distant war threatens to become the background mantra of the evening news, much like the child molesters, high-speed chasers, rapists, and child-murdering mothers we were subjected to every night before 9/11. (And by the way, whatever happened to all those sick puppies...did they disappear, stop committing crimes, or is it-as I always assumed- just not necessary to tell us about every twisted act of violence and gore). Now we have... bombing runs continue over Kabul...last night, in the most intense bombing so far...reports of civilian casualties...special forces continue the search for Bin Laden...Northern Alliance troops advance on...measurable progress in the war against terrorism. How can we stay connected to the war news, so that we don't wind up tuning it out as we tuned out the litany of small horrors we were subjected to before.
Now we live in a world of "credible threats," "high alerts," and anthrax. Hazmat teams are everywhere; they're combing our post offices and federal buildings, our media centers and courtrooms in search of spores. The National Guard is patrolling our borders, our bridges, our airports. And yet, in our parallel world, no one we know has received a suspicious letter or hesitated to drive across a bridge. We see nightly reports on frightening breeches in airport security, but have friends and family flying (thank God, safely) all over the country. And our email! I have probably received no less than five different conspiracy theories, ranging from Zionist plots to whatever, plus detailed explanations from noted experts on biological/chemical warfare who list all the reasons why we should NOT be afraid, and how the media has blown this threat way out of proportion (imagine that!).
It does seem that whoever is terrorizing us is doing one hell of a good job. Hard to figure out if one guy in a cave could have planned this so perfectly, or if there are thousands of wannabe terrorists taking advantage of our current vulnerability, but the truth is that however it's being done, it's brilliant. They have us edgy, nervous, and jumping from one problem to the next so fast we barely have time to manufacture enough Cipro before we're rushing off to perfect a new smallpox vaccine. We don't know whether to protect our tall buildings or our bridges or our airports, our nuclear plants, dams, national monuments, federal buildings, or the stars receiving their Emmys, so we're protecting everything, stretching our resources, spending billions of dollars, and scaring everyone to death. All while unemployment is soaring and the economy is sinking. Absolutely brilliant.
On the other side of the world, we don't seem to be doing quite as well. Forgive me, but I just don't get bombing anymore. I thought bombs destroyed things, but after six weeks of bombing, they don't seem to have destroyed that much. I realize that we play by the "rules of engagement" and the "evil doers" do not, but then how does one ever defeat the evil doers? It's like their team gets twelve tries at a first down with no penalties, and ours gets the customary four, with guaranteed holding and pass interference calls against us on every series. It's just not fair. But why would war and fairness be compatible? I've never really gotten that either.
Here are a few things I like about the new world. The spontaneous concert a week after 9/11, and the staged one at the Garden a month later were both incredible; they showed how great concerts can be when they aren't all about greed and egomania and are just about entertaining people. The stars became caring people, sharing their gifts and their hearts with the rest of us, and their performances were inspiring. They rocked.
And I still like the revived patriotism, the feeling of being more united. I liked the way "God Bless America" was played in the seventh inning of every game during the World Series (although I did not like the fact that the Yankees lost). And certain TV shows came through with flying colors. For example, this was by far the best Emmy presentation ever: lower-key, more respectful, fewer people being full of themselves and thus more people being honest, funny, grateful just to be alive, their role in the grand scheme of things put, perhaps, a bit more in perspective. And yes, Aaron Sorkin employed his preachy style to teach us all about tolerance, but it was still the most brilliant, witty dialogue on the subject to date. Topical humor has returned too...actually tasteful impersonations of Bush and Cheney from SNL, and lots of late night humor with Bin Laden as the butt of the joke. And what a perfect butt he is.
Still, there is this parallel world thing that keeps troubling me. Because while I'm enjoying Bin Laden jokes and bemoaning the state of the economy, there are husbands, fathers and sons, wives, mothers and daughters off fighting a war. A war that will definitely be long. A war that will undeniably get brutal. So after the national mourning, and the donation to the relief fund, and the flag waving, what can WE do? Are there actual constructive "war effort" things we should be doing? You know, like World War II type things? And if so, could we maybe interrupt the ceaseless discussions on inhalation anthrax for just a moment or two to find out about them? Or should we just return to our parallel world, distanced, removed, listening to the background mantra of the war news as we go about our daily lives.
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