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Small Talk: Lessons in aftermath of Sept. 11

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column was first published just weeks after Sept. 11, 2001. 

In the long, painful days after the 9/11 attacks, I found myself easily distracted.

I, like others, needed to think things through and find my own truths on which to rebuild our threatened world.

Many times since becoming a mother, I have felt deeply the stories of Beirut, Africa, Serbia — places far away, where a lifetime of war meant a walk to the store could mean sudden death. I gave thanks regularly that I could raise my children in a land free from that horror.

The events of Sept. 11 tried very hard to take that away and replace it with the shadow of helplessness and fear.

As hell truly broke loose, I forced myself each day to go to work and keep the kids on schedule for school, homework, after-school activities.

I did my grocery shopping, kept doctor appointments, called my loved ones. I believed from the start that everything I could do to continue being brave and free was denying the terrorist some portion of their victory. It was my small way to spit in their eye.

I know now that canceling sports, closing financial markets, setting aside most other news, most other concerns, all possible minutiae of life did not mean that our enemy had bested us.

Instead, it showcased with vivid clarity the rightness of our way of life. It showed that our chosen government and culture allow us the priceless, precious flexibility of choice.

When a friend needs help, we never fail to set aside all those things that our enemies accuse us of worshipping.

We swiftly jettison our personal needs, conveniences and luxuries without batting an eye.

Each of us knows that when we need to do the right thing, we simply can, because our neighbors, our employers, even strangers would do the same.

It is the very heart and soul of America, and the moral strength that keeps our diverse nation so strong.

Meanwhile, I worked to be sure my children understood the madness on our TV screen was horribly, horribly real, even though it looked like some very impressive special effects from the latest action movie.

From that point, I tried to shore up that bitter knowledge with high caution on how and where to lay blame.

We will, in months to come, take a high toll on terrorism, but the hearts of those of us who watched the towers fall must heal into a new shape.

As we gain justice, we will have to step warily to avoid planting intolerance, for I believe intolerance was the cause of it all.

Because this amorphous enemy cannot accept paths other than their own, we must teach them, even as we render them powerless.

My steady wish is that I could take a portion of the overwhelming pain of the survivors onto myself, all the while knowing that I cannot.

So I fly my flags, light a candle, pray and feel the gash in my heart.  I join all America to watch and listen, and immerse ourselves in the hope for a better world.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer, remembering and still grieving. Contact her at [email protected].