Huffpost Politics

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Steven Weber Headshot

A Family, A Nation

Posted: Updated:

In the decade since 9/11, the country has in many ways reacted the way a single family would have if their beloved home had been attacked and destroyed and members of their family brutally killed, the family's nerves and fortunes stretched to never-before-considered breaking points.

And each day since had been a struggle to compensate for the horrendous loss of psychological and physical security, a painful attempt to cope in their forever altered world.

The combination of post traumatic stress and subsequent mourning, along with the efforts to rebuild all that was physically and emotionally lost, had left the family deeply disturbed, its waking days desperate and prone to rage, its sleep drenched with horrific images both real and imagined, and both states defined by a deep, relentless ache for what was.

And impacted by that event, the family's awareness is now enhanced by the certainty that their future -- like their past -- is similarly vulnerable and so are therefore absolutely justified in investing much of their time and attention toward preventing any future assault.

The family's righteous anger and fear becomes the foundation of its discourse with other equally angry and fearful families; distrust and wariness becomes the basis of relationships with strangers and is even inserted into previously established relationships with friends. The attitudes they had once enjoyed, ones in which wisdom, mercy and trust were mainstays, had now become quaint relics and summarily discarded.

And since that day it seemed so many of the family's actions have been solely defined by what it lost a decade ago with little attempt made to move the family away from the darkness that permeates its behavior, the family having become almost comfortable in this perpetual state of discomfort.

What was once the anomaly had now become the norm.

The very idea, in fact, of reinvigorating the family's lost sense of decency, even in a world perceived as indecent, was deemed a threat.

And indeed, such a thing would seem impossible, given the searing lesson of that attack imparted ten years ago, pain which can never stop reverberating through the sympathetic stands of memory.

And yet reclaiming that sense of decency, wisdom and mercy in an indecent, uncaring and merciless world is exactly what the family must now attempt to do.

In Robert Kennedy's famous speech where he revealed to a waiting crowd that Martin Luther King had been murdered, the presidential candidate proffered a solution to the accruing problem of violence and division, the very things which would take his own life shortly afterward: "What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country... to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world".

Kennedy's preternatural eloquence is the first thing one discerns, but it is the crowd's response which becomes the more fascinating component at that moment of horrifying divulgence.

There is of course the sharp cry at hearing the news of King's assassination. But when Kennedy councils civility in what was now surely an uncivil place and time, there is an audible moment of surprise which evolves into brief tentativeness and the audience swiftly embraces Kennedy's gentle entreaty for wisdom to staunch the madness which would otherwise flow when met with equal rage, no matter how righteous.

This simplistic analogy is not meant in any way to call for anything less than vigilance against the terrorism which has impacted all our lives as Americans. It is only meant to express the idea that our nation's greatness lay not in its ability to rattle a saber and wage war but in its unique commitment to wield its more precious capabilities to wage a just and prudent peace, both domestically and globally. The horror of 9/11 made that difficult to remember let alone sustain. But it's all too easy to become comfortable in a society now defined by retribution, to seek easy answers in low places when so challenged.

The founders of this country, as well as the various great men and women whose words have enriched its life, have all encouraged their fellow citizens to make the effort, however daunting, to raise the level of existence in this society to one above base reaction, to value the lessons of its history, to gradually create a place where liberty is not only secured through vigilance, but where it is valued and enjoyed by all wisely and sensitively.

And for a family -- or a nation -- devastated by tragedy and violence, that is the only way back home.

Around the Web

Giuliani and Bloomberg: NY mayors linked by Sept 11

Pentagon chief visiting 9/11 sites in NY, Pa.

Near 10th anniversary, NYC 9/11 exhibitions abound

The 9/11 fund: Putting a price on life

What we should have done after 9/11

Memories of 9-11: A day that changed the next decade

Teaching Terror: As 9/11 moves from memory to history, schools adapt

What Should We Tell Students About 9/11?

Pools Mist Names of the Dead With Grace at 9/11 Memorial: James S. Russell