“The basis for optimism is sheer terror.” Oscar Wilde
It”s been a week now since the world was changed forever, and with emotions raveled and nerves sufficiently frayed after seven days of history, we”re starting to let this moment of infamy take its place in history. Life is coming back slowly.
Signs emerged yesterday that some semblance of normality was being restored, as two great institutions of Americana were back in business: Trading returned to Wall Street and baseball returned to the ballpark. And in what President Bush called a defiant act against terrorism, people quietly returned to their routines. Or at least they tried.
For a week now we”ve lived with these moments and we”ve connected a week”s worth of coping and understanding back to Tuesday morning. Today it”s tough to imagine a world that existed before last Tuesday, before the world came to a halt.
History shows us that strange things happen when the world stops and fixes itself on a single moment, when time is traced back to a series of minutes that altered history or changed lives.
I remember hearing stories of how the death of famed author C.S. Lewis was largely missed because it came on the same day in November 1963 that John F. Kennedy was shot. So overshadowed by the historic death of Kennedy and so unaware of Lewis” own passing, people for years continued to contact the Lewis estate with public appearance requests only to learn that the author had died while the world was stopped. Equally transfixed this past week has been a country that has lived in a mindless blur of TV reports with pictures that somehow don”t need commentary, and newspapers with photos that don”t need captions.
Our world stopped last Tuesday and in the days spent recovering from the grip that this tragedy has kept us in, the ordinary pieces of life seem to come back slowly.
Life is coming back to normal and it feels the way your frozen fingers felt when you were eight-years-old and you”d come inside after an afternoon playing in the snow. You”d pull lifeless and numb fingers from mittens and watch them thaw to a stinging pink. You”d have your fingers back, but the piercing sting of feeling returning never felt good.
That”s how chunks of normalcy are coming back now, in unexpected stings and in slow melting moments.
They come back at times when you see a commercial on TV and remember that its been a few days since you”ve seen one. Or when you read a story that doesn”t come from New York or Washington and doesn”t mention “terror” or “attack” or any of the other words or terms we”ve lived with now for a week. And just like the way the thawing, stinging fingers make you wonder if the cold, numb alternative was really that bad, life is coming back this week with all the clumsy details that nobody wants to consider. Things like insurance claims on buildings and planes and companies and property and people are being thought of even before the tears have finished drying.
This return to normalcy is coupled with a realization that the things we considered important a week ago now seem laughable. Consider the front page headlines that stretched the width of the Detroit Free Press last Monday headlines that called the benching of Lions Quarterback Charlie Batch “stunning.” In one week”s time we”ve seen the triviality of that story made clear and our definitions of “stunning” dramatically altered.
But what hasn”t been altered? The people we”ve spent a week listening to have been telling us that the events of last Tuesday have forever changed this country. Only now is this reality becoming clear. And what we see is that we may not know how to return fully to the sense of normalcy we enjoyed a week ago before we told ourselves to be thankful for the things we considered ordinary, before we appreciated the things we had always had. These days we”re aware of what we don”t have some are painfully more aware than others but collectively we know we are without an historic model to follow. It”s certainly redundant to mention that this tragedy, in all its far reaching horror, is unlike anything we”ve dealt with before. For the last week we”ve been reminded of certain other points in our history with images from Dallas in 1963 and Hawaii from 1941. And we”ve done what we”ve always done we”ve looked to history for a template to follow, for steps to repeat in order to recover. But in a lot of ways we”ve come up empty. Take a look at the Red Cross website and you”ll find a link to a page dedicated to helping people cope with disaster. There you”ll see links to disaster services provided after floods, tornadoes, earthquakes and a host of others 17 in all. But there is no website this time that tells us what to do next.
So we”re going back to work and we”re getting back to life. We”re making plans again and we”re getting on with things. Life is coming back slowly, and with it so is our optimism despite the stinging.
Geoff Gagnon can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.