Jewish World Review Sept. 28, 2001 / 11 Tishrei 5762
America's back at the ballpark again, but this time our National Anthem seems to be getting real respect.
Since the day the world changed on Sept. 11, there doesn't seem to be as much coughing or snickering or scratching during the song these days. Just full-throated, hats-off gusto - loud enough for Osama bin Ladin to hear halfway around the world.
The world has changed since terrorists crashed hijacked jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. We Americans have changed, too. For the moment, at least, we're more serious.
Jerry Seinfeld, an icon of the New Cynicism school of comedy, has announced a fund-raiser for the victims' families.
David Letterman fawns over New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, instead of cracking jokes about him, and urges him to run again.
Major cartoonists and satirists have declared President Bush to be off limits as the butt of jokes. Bush responded well by delivering a pitch-perfect speech before Congress and the nation. Hitting all the right notes without a hint of the awkwardness that marked his earlier addresses, he delivered the best speech of his short career. The nation and the world needed to hear a statesman at that moment, and he delivered.
America, in short, seems to be emerging slowly out of its cloud of unspeakable tragedy. We're getting our act together. But we, like the world, have changed.
We Americans are worse off, to be sure. We have endured a national trauma. We are poorer for the loss of human life in the explosions of hatred, resentment and envy.
But we have pulled important lessons out of this tragedy's rubble. I expect historians to look back at the world our lost brothers and sisters left behind and find many ways in which we have become better people.
I can hear it in the voice of a New York man who recalls how everyone around Wall Street used to talk endlessly about how to make more money. Now, he says, they talk about how they might enjoy the life they have a little better.
I can see it in the larger crowds at churches, synagogues and mosques. You'd think it were Easter Sunday, judging by the crowds at the churches I have seen, except the wardrobes and facial expressions are not as cheerful. Faced with foes who believe in their cause enough to die for it, we regard our spiritual values with a new seriousness to help us sort out our changed world.
I can feel it in my new appreciation for cell phones. I can hardly hear the ubiquitous chirps without being reminded of the doomed World Trade Center and hijacked airplane passengers. Cell phones gave some of them a final chance to transmit a message to someone they loved. Their stories, unspeakably sad, make you wonder: What would you say to someone you love at a moment like that? Why not take a moment and say it now?
Singles life has changed, too. Manhattan singles in bars, buses or supermarkets no longer have to grope for a conversation starter. The great tragedy has given them a shared experience that forms a common bond before either speaks a word to the other. For some this bond results in what the Oct. 1 Time magazine calls "Apocalypse sex" or "Armageddon sex."
After all that New Yorkers have been through, it is hard to fault some for finding someone who helps them to feel good again anyway they can, even on the heels of great sorrow. After all, life must go on or the terrorists have won.
I used to wonder how the British endured relentless pounding by Hitler's bombs during World War II yet kept their factories running, their children schooled and their laundry done - and came out of it a stronger people.
That was before the world changed. Americans have joined the rest of the world. We are learning how to live beneath the ghastly cloud of terrorism.
The terrorists wanted to turn our lives upside down. They succeeded. They won this round. We cannot give them any more victories. They will win even more if we let our lives stay upside down.
If we refuse to fly, refuse to invest in the markets that measure our faith in the future and avoid having fun with our friends and families, we let the terrorists win even more.
If we sacrifice out of fear too many of the rights and freedoms that have enabled America to prosper, the terrorists will have won the war.
We are not as unsafe as we think we are, because we were never as safe as we thought we were. I hope we are a more thoughtful people now. I think we will be more careful. I expect us to be more vigilant. I expect us to come out of this crisis better than ever.
09/24/01: How to catch an elusive terrorist