Beyond flag-waving

As time goes by, I wonder if the events of Sept. 11 are making a difference in our everyday lives. The memorial services and fundraising events have all been tremendously healing. I've also heard lots of sound bites on TV from people who claim to be reconsidering personal goals and priorities.

On the other hand, there's a friend who told me that he asked one of his buddies, an immigrant from the Middle East, what should be done about the WTC attack, and the immigrant pal said, "Nuke 'em before they nuke us!"

Opinion polls aren't very insightful on this subject. One of the survey questions I keep seeing on the Internet is, "Do you feel safe?" Depends on the circumstances. While driving my car, the answer is no. When it comes to annual deaths, sitting in a moving automobile is the most hazardous activity most of us will ever experience. Sad to say, I haven't noticed any changes for the better on my local roads since the twin towers came down.

I live near a terrible intersection. Crashes occur there about twice a week because motorists aren't paying attention. The end result is exactly what would happen if terrorists were deliberately ramming their vehicles into oncoming traffic. I think if all drivers perceived the danger in those terms, they would slow down and be more careful.

But few seem to be making the connection. I felt especially discouraged recently when a car that almost hit me while speeding through a red light had a paper flag taped to the window proclaiming, "Proud To Be An American."

Still, there may have been good reasons for that person to be in a hurry. One of the cautionary notes President Bush has sounded repeatedly is that we should not let hostility or feelings of revenge cloud our judgment. I try to follow that advice out here at street level, and I certainly hope nobody is judging me to be unpatriotic just because I never got around to putting a flag on my own car.

For now, I'm following the president's advice to get back into the skies by flying away to a high school reunion. My ticket had to be rewritten because the schedules changed, but the American Airlines agent was very courteous, even though she was being let go the next day after 17 years of service.

And, like thousands of other laid-off airline workers, she's not getting severance benefits.

There's a lot of anger within the travel industry right now, and a feeling that the government is favoring corporations over individual Americans when it comes to financial aid. True or not, it's the kind of perception that breeds resentment and erodes the concept of "United We Stand."

Honoring the memory of all those who perished in New York City will require more effort than posting signs in windows. International cooperation is only part of the battle against terrorism. We need to concentrate on building the strongest possible coalition right here at home.

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