Up until Sept. 10, we held at bay our somewhat remote fear of a dreaded and destructive computer virus entering our computer via unseen electronic impulses cultured on the web and delivered via e-mail. Appreciating the now-declining energy cost to fuel our cars, we nevertheless wondered whether the economy would nibble away our jobs, causing us to tighten our belts.
On Sept. 11, New York visited us, along with the Pentagon and a tiny town called Shanksville. It tore its way into our eyes, our minds, our hearts. How could this be? What could it mean?
Today, not a man-made, but human-manipulated bacterium unwittingly delivered by the trusty U.S. mail may lurk in our Senate office computer keyboard, or in unopened mail, threatening to become airborne and nestle in our lungs, intended to bring us certain death. A tiny island in the Susquehanna River, address to a mighty nuclear generator, looms as a deadly target, threatening not just life as we know it, but life itself. Almost daily, the unemployment toll rises. We wonder what tomorrow will bring.
As I work at my computer, a fighter plane roars overhead at measured intervals, protecting Camp David and a president who has redefined the concept of carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. A mother wonders. More horrible than the fear of aliens and air raid drills that poxed the childhood of this baby boomer, these dangers are real and present. They have been quietly living among us, a most insidious cancer whose warning signs went unnoticed and untreated. While we wallowed in the political scandal of a White House tainted, they plotted against us, they amassed their unconventional arsenal, they measured time.
Today, evil has united us with New Yorkers, with ill-fated airline travelers, with unsuspecting service men and women and civilians at the Pentagon. We have been touched by the fate of thousands of toiling Twin Tower employees, with brave fire fighters and determined police officers, and victims of a crash site in a remote Pennsylvania field. The bond extends now to innocent letter carriers and seasoned media employees, youthful Senate staffers, and thousands of families near and far who have been cruelly touched by calculated pain and grief. But, "these acts will not stand!" Instead, now more united we stand, ever tall, holding hands across America, forever the land of the free, and the home of the brave.
But, never again can we visit New York City, with the innocence and wonder with which my daughters and I spent a few precious days in August 2001. We can never journey to New York City with the detachment of a tourist. It's too personal, too precious. Today, its images and its bravery, its redefined skyline and its heroes will forever be carried in our hearts. New York City has become a part of each of us. No, we cannot merely return as gawking tourists, but . . . return we will!
We will go back to New York, as in August, to celebrate its Broadway culture and its Wall Street power. But this time, we will also revel in its resiliency, tenacity, and generosity, much like we might journey home to renew acquaintances with friends and family, to recall times gone by, to share triumphs, to forge new memories, and to resolutely face the future.
How quickly life changed. Yet, a precious irony unfolds: in the face of terror, we're older now, we're wiser and stronger. As a nation, we stand united and wisely led. As a mother and daughter three-some, we're more attuned to what really matters in life, to a strengthened faith and to closer ties, because New York City . . . has visited us.
Marian K. Witherow is a professor of Management at Shippensburg University and the owner of a consulting business specializing in strategic planning and leadership development (Witherow & Company).