September 11th changed everything for Americans.
The truth is, we should have recognized the signs in Atlanta, in 1996, but it was easier to live in denial. We wanted to believe the Olympic Park bombing was the work of some deranged individual with a homemade pipe bomb, nothing more. Even when that individual turned out to be innocent and the bombing was never solved, we’d moved on and put it out of our minds. Because terror doesn’t happen here.
But then September 11th happened. After that, we paid attention a little more to things like the Madrid train bombings or the London underground attacks, because after all, it had happened to us. We felt a kinship to those who were suffering. And we silently prayed it would never come to our shores again.
And then yesteday. Once again we are outraged. National news organizations sent all of their people to Boston and we watched them come up with every story angle they could on the tragedy.
But the ugly truth is, it’s a little harder to get worked up this time. We want to be mad…and to a certain degree, we are. But instead of wall-to-wall coverage, we got an hour during prime time. Already, most of us are heading back to work, generally unaffected by yesterday’s events. And to a lot of people, that is probably the saddest part of all.
We don’t want to be mad anymore. We’re all angered out. We’re tired of fighting about guns in the wake of Newtown. We’re tired of memorializing each and every victim of senseless tragedies inflicted on us by either crazed loners or organized terrorists. Not because we don’t care about them, but rather because when we think about it, we care too much. We visualize those faces as people we know, people we care about…people we love. And you can only do that so many times before you just can’t do it anymore.
And so, with no options left to us, many will embrace the only thing left. Acceptance.
Acceptance that this is just the new reality we live in. That bad things are going to happen and the world we enjoyed a mere 20 years ago doesn’t exist anymore. We don’t want to, but emotionally, we don’t have much choice.
And undoubtedly, in an effort to try and understand this new reality, people will say things like, “What is this world coming to?” I know, because I have already heard that phrase uttered at least twice. But sadly, the answer is even more depressing. Because the answer is, the world isn’t going anywhere. It’s just that we, as Americans, we were lucky enough to be separated from it for so long. But now, we’ve arrived at the same place the rest of the world has been for quite a while.
Case in point:
When I left on my mission in 1992, families were allowed to see their missionaries off right at the gate to the airliner that would take them to different parts of the world. For me, it was Manchester, England. There was no security, no throwing away of any liquids more than 5 ounces, no pat downs in a separate area when your boarding pass was chosen at random. None of that existed here.
But when I arrived in England, I found a much different story. Again, this is in 1992. British military roamed the airports with automatic weapons. Waiting for arrivals or saying goodbye to departing friends or family took place outside of security checkpoints, much like the experience we have in American airports now. When I looked for somewhere to throw away a piece of trash I had collected, there were no trash cans available. I asked why later. The answer shocked me. Trash cans are perfect locations for someone to drop a bomb into. They’d already had experience with that. I was stunned. This had to be a massive overreaction on their part. Right?
Twenty years ago last March, I had been in the mission field for roughly eight months. On a regular morning just like any other, in a town less than a hundred miles from where I was living, two bombs exploded outside of a downtown shopping area in Warrington, England. Warrington was in my mission. I knew the missionaries serving there.
Much like yesterday, the death toll was relatively small, but the number of injured was quite extensive. The Irish Republican Army had planted bombs in two different metal trash cans on the road and exploded them within minutes of each other. Unfortunately for them, one of the fatalities was a cute little boy about three years old. His picture was everywhere the next day. Unlike the terrorists of today, the IRA actually cared about their PR. After Warrington, it hit an all-time low.
But this all happened twenty years ago. And the country in which it happened had already taken precautions against things like this because it had happened before. Yet, when I returned home to my family a little over a year later, I walked up the jetway to the waiting arms of my mother right outside the gate. We walked out of the airport, never passing security checkpoints or massively armed personnel. Our day hadn’t come yet. We, as Americans, were still allowed to live in a dream world where things like bombs and terrorism didn’t affect us.
So, what is this world coming to? It’s not coming or going anywhere. It’s stuck in that same awful place where human beings kill other innocent human beings for some purpose only they can find justification for. It’s a horrible place. And sadly, the United States is now at the table along with every other nation of the world. I wish we weren’t. For the sake of my children, I’d give anything to go back to the way it used to be. But yesterday is a stark reminder that those days are gone and likely never to return in my lifetime. I’ve accepted it. And that brings me the most sadness of all.