So Much, Yet So Little, Has Changed

by admin | September 9, 2011 5:35 pm

Most Americans who are now adults remember where they were on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. I was sitting in front of a computer laying out the editorial page for the Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel when the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center — broadcast by CNN on a television hanging from the newsroom wall. Like most, what was taking place didn’t sink in for a minute or two. Only when the second plane hit did it become apparent our country was under attack by terrorists. I spent the rest of the day marshaling the newsrooms of the Lufkin and Nacogdoches newspapers to produce a four-page extra edition by that evening.People actually lined up to buy the extra, though frankly it contained nothing they couldn’t glean from television or the Web, save a few local reaction-type stories that added little to their knowledge. I think folks just wanted something to hold in their hands to remind them. It was the last “extra” I will help produce. The media climate changed radically not long after. Just 18 months later, the Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over East Texas. As pieces rained down upon the Piney Woods, we opted to devote our efforts to getting the news online first rather than producing another extra. Today, I’m not sure many folks under 30 even know what an extra edition means.

So much has changed in those 10 years, and yet so little. Facebook and Twitter, smart phones, hybrid vehicles have all entered the marketplace — to name a few ways how we communicate and get around have evolved. Those items are important, but that’s with a little “i.” The biggest change seems to be diminished expectations. The housing crash, the recession, more than a tenth of Americans unable to find work — all have combined to create an America that is either unable or unwilling to get back on track. We have gotten used to taking our shoes and belts off at airports and being groped. Has that made us safer? I don’t know. I have my doubts.

It is simply impossible to fathom the grief the families of those who died in the attacks must still bear. No memorial, remembrance or service can do much to assuage that. I suspect grieving survivors take solace in being with their families or with the kin of others who died in the attacks or in the rescue attempts. Time dulls the pain, but nothing can erase it. We all have suffered losses of loved ones. That provides a small window into what they must feel. I pray their pain lessens, and that on this 10-year anniversary we as a nation remember with respect those families who lost loved ones. I hope cable television doesn’t inundate the airwaves with footage of that horrific day. We know what happened, what it looked like.

I can’t help worrying that we have not adequately honored those who died by how we have behaved as a nation. Instead of being asked to sacrifice, we were told to go shopping, that it was time to return to our normal lives. We did so with abandon until everything came crashing down around our ears. People bought houses they couldn’t afford, aided and abetted by mortgage lenders who knew better. They racked up credit card debt betting on pay hikes, increased housing values — or, most likely, not really thinking it through. Too many folks wanted their piece of a perceived American Dream right now. We have fought in wars for nearly a decade now, but for the vast majority of Americans that is an abstract concept. Only those who have actually been deployed, or their family and friends, understand the sacrifices that have been made. The rest of us just go about our business. At least we did until the bottom fell out.

I am not much different, so this isn’t an exercise in finger-pointing. I thought the good times would just keep on rocking along, though a natural Yankee frugality saved me from serious financial hardship when I began a bumpy road from job-to-job, after more than two decades climbing up the media ladder. I am blessed with a great job once again. Many of my friends and colleagues in the media business are not.

It seems to me now that as a nation we blew it after 9/11. As Thomas Friedman points out, previous generations used such crises as World War II or the Cold War to require national sacrifices, to embark on bold initiatives that would keep our country strong and competitive — the space program and interstate highway system, to name two. The Baby Boomers and their younger ilk maxed out credit cards, bought McMansions with little money down, didn’t save squat and assumed the good times would never end. Well, they did.

Our leaders failed us in the past decade, both Democrat and Republican. But we also failed ourselves. I hope we get a mulligan, a chance to make it up, to take the hard steps to put this country back on a firm financial footing. It means, for one thing, remembering what is important: faith, family, friends. It also means realizing happiness doesn’t lie in more stuff bought on credit. It means learning to make do, living within our means, both individually and collectively.

It means making the sacrifices we should have started making a decade ago. At least that’s how I see it.

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