Americans abroad try to cope from afar
Millions of US citizens were a long way from home when terror struck.
Every evening during the May-to-October dry season, visitors meander through 20,000-year-old rock-art galleries and climb up to the Ubirr lookout to gaze at the sunset.
It is a ritual that brings a close to the day for many of the 200,000 people who travel through Kakadu National Park each year, and even when the crowd swells to a thousand or more, there's usually a reverent hush in place.
This is nature at its finest. Lush wetlands are filled with fish, turtles, and crocodiles. Snow-white flocks of geese and pelicans coast through the blue sky above. An almost unfathomable assemblage of species bathes in the reddish glow of the slumping sun.
For Jeffrey Lum from San Jose, Calif., doing his senior year of college abroad in Australia, it's the kind of sight that has made dealing with the events of the last two weeks somehow easier.
Thousands of miles away from a home that is pulling together and gearing up for a now seemingly inevitable and protracted retaliation, Mr. Lum has gone through the lonely process of dealing with a changing world far from friends and family.
Like many other Americans, he still feels confused about what should or shouldn't be done in retaliation.
But, if nothing else, he has learned that traveling to one of the world's natural wonders - Kakadu is to the outback what the Great Barrier Reef is to Australia's coast - can help relieve the pain that comes with tragedy.
"It's definitely helped take my mind off things," Lum says as the sun disappears. "You don't have to think about your problems, you can just deal with nature.... But I still think about what's happening every day."
Lum is one of the tens of thousands of United States citizens now living and working abroad, coping with the same anger, grief, and dismay that all Americans have encountered since Sept. 11. But for those overseas Americans, coping has also had added dimensions.
There are the obvious ones; fears for their personal safety; homesickness, the occasional difficulty in finding out what's going on, and even dealing with the goodwill of strangers who extend condolences when they hear an American accent. But there are also more personal challenges.
Cindy Gregg, a spokeswoman for the US Embassy in Canberra, has watched fellow diplomats and other Americans she knows in Australia encounter an intense homesickness and guilt in the weeks since the World Trade Center tumbled.
"When something like this happens, you realize how very far away you are," she says.
"And in a sense, you feel guilty about it. You want to get back home, and you realize you can't get there tomorrow. The distance all of a sudden just smacks you in the face."
Traveling with a group of Britons, as she has been for the past few weeks, has forced Michelle Maurer to look at the events from another perspective. Like many Americans, the young woman from Saint Petersburg, Fla., was bent on revenge in the days after Sept. 11.
But listening to her friends worry about what they see as a potentially belligerent response from the US has made her think differently. She now questions the scope of the Bush administration's planned war on terrorism.
Five months into a seven-month trip around Australia that was to have been followed by a stint teaching English in Japan, she has also begun to question her own plans.
She thinks she may not go to Japan when she leaves Australia in November. Her mother wants her home. But she also wants to be home and rid of that feeling that she is somehow isolated from an important moment in American history.
"I feel this need to reconnect," she says, nodding toward the Kakadu sunset. "Traveling, you're seeing all these beautiful things and enjoying yourself. But you're not going through this grieving process that other Americans are."