Throughout the years that I have written “Thoughts from Dr. Joe,” I’ve tried to find words from the heart, trusting that my perspectives would resonate with my readers. I’ve not taken this charge lightly and consequently craft every sentence hoping to leave a message.
Attempting to write thoughts regarding the anniversary of 9/11, I struggled for a thesis, some unifying perspective whereby I could find clarity and report that after 10 years, there is light at the end of the tunnel. However, I am fooled by mirages and once again I stare down a long, dark crevasse.
We now live in a complicated world. We never thought another nation would attack our soil. Wars were for other places and other people. We fought for them, or their land. Yet, here we were, watching our friends and neighbors killed just for being American citizens. This is an America I have since introduced to my children, unlike the land where I grew up. Being attacked now prompts a feeling of inevitability, as it is hard to imagine living in a secure world.
After 9/11 we seemed nicer, more patient, more compassionate, and even a little less rushed. What seemed vital the day before became voluntary in the face of this great tragedy. We arrived at a unique moment in time. America was in solidarity.
We shed our partisan ways and began to speak to each other as citizens. Some shed tears, others unashamedly prayed, treating each other with respect and honor. Policemen and firemen were greeted warmly in the marketplace. We just wanted them to know that they were appreciated for just being there, for doing their jobs. And, more of us went to church.
What we revisit over and over is the period that followed, when grief merged with a sense of community and purpose. The 9/11 disaster brought out the best in us. How, having lost so much on the day itself, did we also manage to lose this as well?
Shortly after 9/11 we waited for the call to find out what we were supposed to do, something that would give a special and lasting meaning to the tragedy that we endured.
But the call never came. What would follow for the next 10 years would be paid for with the blood of other people’s children, and with money earned by the next generation. Our role appeared to be confined to waiting in long lines at the airport and enduring the loss of young Americans in counties who don’t give a damn about their own sovereignty — or about us.
Without a call to work together on some effort greater than ourselves, we’ve fallen into a self-centeredness that has become a similar national tragedy. We spend our time fighting each other with more vehemence than we fight the enemy. When we measure the possibilities created by 9/11 against what we have actually accomplished, we have found that we have compounded the tragedy.
In Greek mythology we learn that the phoenix, a mythical bird, consumes itself in flame, and from its own ashes it rises, re-born. The phoenix is symbolic of the American spirit, indelible and with the promise to rise again. However, our resurrection depends on what we do.
My company commander, Captain Gavlick, would say, “The best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
Let me leave you with perspective from the stories of A. A. Milne to light our way through the tunnel. As Christopher Robin attempts to bolster the hopes of Winnie-the-Pooh for the challenges that lay ahead he says, “Promise me you’ll always remember: you’re braver than you believe and stronger than you seem....“
I suggest we get to work.