The New Normal

one month has elapsed since the attacks on america. people say their lives are back to normal, but they also sense that 'normal' is different now - SERIOUS, patriotic, more prayerful.

Reported by staff writers Kris Axtman, Kim Campbell, Ron Scherer, Liz Marlantes, Stephen Humphries, Daniel B. Wood, and contributors Patrik Jonsson and Craig Savoye.

What's normal now in America? More civility, if you're Peter Giacobbi. The University of Florida professor used to hammer his brother about politics. But the events of Sept. 11 have put extreme-sport argument in a new perspective.

"It seems so petty, compared to these issues we're dealing with now," he says.

To Chris Lanciani, normal means more time for family. A signal-processing engineer from Washington, Mr. Lanciani had been working 60 to 70 hours a week. He also has an 18-month-old daughter. Watching her grow suddenly takes precedence. "I shouldn't procrastinate about the important things," he says.

Kathleen MacArthur has seen a surge of patriotism on campus. This semester, the class she teaches on the Vietnam War at George Washington University disliked the famous antiwar books of the period. "It's so different from what's going on around them, it's hard for them to relate to," she says.

One month after terror struck the United States, the nation is settling back into its routines. Sports are back. Movie theaters are jammed. The American flags on overpasses are still there - but many are dirty and half-torn, and look untended.

Retaliatory attacks against Afghanistan have set people on edge, as they brace for more news to come. An undercurrent of fear has even reached towns far from New York or Washington. The possibility of biological or chemical attack is something that only weeks ago seemed remote. Now perfectly normal people discuss the qualities of gas masks as if they were comparing the virtues of different SUVs.

Some of the changes predicted in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11 haven't come to pass. Violence in entertainment seems as popular as ever. Congress didn't whoop antiterrorist legislation through, engaging instead in a serious debate on civil-liberties tradeoffs. Some Muslim Americans have been persecuted for being who they are. Most haven't.

Undeniably, the four hijacked jetliners destroyed more than buildings. They also ripped a hole in the US cocoon of self-absorption. Through that hole Americans now hear the noise of the world - the voices of those who hate the globe's lone superpower for what it does, and for what it is.

Perhaps the United States has entered a new age of seriousness of purpose. In the days and weeks since Sept. 11 - as the World Trade Center and the Pentagon burn in memory and the faces of the dead still jolt, like an arrow to the heart - the overwhelming reaction of ordinary people has been that it is now so easy for them to see what is - and what is no longer - important.

"America is now another nation," says Vartan Gregorian, former president of Brown University in Providence, R.I., and current head of the Carnegie Corp. in New York.

* * *

The full effects of the events of Sept. 11 won't be known for years. Americans are still unsettled, even a bit haunted, by the spectacular terrorist attacks, if polls are any judge.

More than 4 in 10 US citizens say they remain depressed by the tragedies, according to a Pew Research Center survey from earlier this month. Seventy-five percent say they are worried about another terror incident.

Seventy-three percent say they continue to follow news updates very closely. Forty percent say they have had trouble sleeping in recent days.

There's a new sense of vulnerability afoot in the land. Neither the oceans nor $300 billion in military spending protected the United States from the deadliest day on its soil since the Civil War.

Jean Bethke Elshtain, a professor of social and political ethics at the University of Chicago, recently sat in the living room of her daughter in Tennessee and had a serious talk about how to protect her grandchildren in case of chemical attack. Before Sept. 11, such a discussion was not just impossible, it was unthinkable. Chaos, war, and refugees were something that happened "out there," she says, in a vast non-America of poverty and hatred.

Not surprising, America's biggest behavioral change so far involves flying. Ten percent of the public says it has recently canceled a trip by air, or will soon do so, according to the Pew Center. That represents a potential airline loss of upwards of 19 million passengers.

Plane reluctance affects more than the airline, hotel, and tourist industries. It now promises to ripple through the nation's complicated social structure, in ways both large and small.

Consider this: Many divorced parents live hundreds of miles apart. Some are now reluctant to put children on airplanes for visitation trips, because they fear for their safety.

Bob Nachshin, a divorce and family law attorney at Nachshin & Weston in Los Angeles, got his first worried phone call about this issue on Sept. 13. He's already participated in one hearing - a judge ordered that the twice-monthly flights of a four-year-old from Phoenix to L.A. should proceed. He has two other visitation hearings on his agenda, and he thinks this could become a bigger problem as Thanksgiving and Christmas draw near.

"There's a lot of fear in America, among children and adults," says Mr. Nachshin. "If that fear still exists in early November, there are going to be people who are going to say, 'The planes aren't safe and my child shouldn't go see their dad' " over the holidays.

* * *

That's not the only way this holiday season might be different. The getting-and-spending bubble of a decade of boom looks to have finally burst. Excess is out, though, to be fair, it was well on its way out before Sept. 11. Tragedy has only reinforced an attitude of fiscal restraint brought on by a weak stock market and recession worries.

Will a response to terrorism throw the country into a new age of austerity? Probably not. Consumer behavior is driven largely by economic forces, in the short term, and by broad cultural changes, in the long term.

Characterizations of a decade's economic behavior are largely media creations. The 1980s weren't really about greed, or the '90s about dotcom cash, except in the small slice of the population able to actually afford a Porsche.

Still, terrorism puts many things in perspective - and materialism is one of them.

"The scale of what you do, the proportions have changed," says author David Halberstam. "We really have been bingeing on self-absorption."

By that, Mr. Halberstam means not just an obsession with stuff, but the Millennium Full Monty - the swirl of celebrity news and diet fads and focus on appearance that characterized popular culture prior to 9/11/01.

Self-absorption may be in trouble, indeed. Just look at what's happening on one of its temples, Rodeo Drive.

* * *

Rodeo Drive is a brand name unto itself, a four-block-long retail stretch at the heart of Beverly Hills. Many of its store names are international - Gucci, Cartier, Chanel - but the image of the place is one of the center of high-end consumer lux, American-style.

Opulence doesn't seem to have many takers these days, however. At the Beaute de Provence hair boutique - where a cut goes for $290 - the lobby was empty. Off to the side, the Café Mirabeau had only a scattering of customers.

Other stores were so quiet that they seemed like movie sets waiting for the film crew to arrive. How are those $15,000 watches, $50,000 necklaces, and $6,000 suits moving? Don't ask.

"Buying is way down, it's terrible," says Alex Lendvai, a clerk at Bang and Olufsen electronics.

Rodeo Drive has experienced the ebb and flow of business cycles before. The last recession, in the early 1990s, emptied out 40 percent of its retail space.

But the current situation seems different - more sudden, less rational, somehow.

"This reminds me of 1991, when Operation Desert Storm took place, and there was just a strange absence of interest without coherent explanation," says Richard Rice, a consultant for Galerie Michael.

Many business owners are clinging to the hope that the Christmas season will be much better - it usually is.

And some noted that the emotions generated by Sept. 11 are actually driving a handful of purchases. In the face of death and destruction, the acquisition of something beautiful might be judged an affirmation of humanity, after all.

Timothy Varger has sold fine art on Rodeo Drive for 16 years. A London client of his was trapped in Los Angeles when the FAA grounded airliners. After she finally got home, she called Mr. Varger to explain why she wanted to go ahead with an expensive purchase.

"It was her way of resolving for herself that good emotions still exist, that civilization is still beautiful, that creativity is important," says Varger.

* * *

"Important." It's a word that surfaces again and again when people talk about how their values have changed since Sept. 11. To many, family is more important now. Or, to be precise, they are waking up to how important family was to them all along. Reminders of mortality have had that effect throughout history.

And family, in this sense, can mean more than children and parents. It can mean church. It can mean community. It can encompass all the myriad brotherhoods and fellowships that make up civil society at large.

Nineteenth-century observer Alexis de Tocqueville noted that America is a nation of joiners, and seldom has that been more true than today. From high schools to Hollywood, the nation has formed impromptu groups of fundraisers to collect cash to help ease the plight of the victims of terrorism and their families.

Washington, as an institution, has benefited from this coming together. Government is important again. All that chatter about lockboxes and such now seems like so much partisan noise lawmakers produce to occupy the time between truly important problems.

According to polls, trust in government "is at a level that hasn't been seen since before the Vietnam War," says Robert Higgs, author of "Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government."

But that's a trust the government will likely have to work to keep.

In the past, when Washington rode high in the polls, it was in response to a real accomplishment, such as winning World War II or creating Medicare.

If the US war on terrorism is perceived to be slipping, the public might turn on Washington as quickly as it has embraced it.

* * *

And then, separate from the government, there is the family of the nation. Probably never in the history of the republic have so many people flown so many flags. Patriotism is back, big time - a mere 8 percent of Americans think the recent proliferation of Old Glory is excessive, according to Pew.

The new patriotism stems from a new sense of "us." The terrorists didn't discriminate in their targets. They hit young and old, rich and poor, African-American and Asian-American, not to mention citizens of many other nations. The response has been a unity that defies cynicism.

"This is a sense of nationalism in the best sense, because all Americans [feel] it to some extent," says Mr. Gregorian.

Even - perhaps especially - teenagers. To get a feel for how deeply Sept. 11 has penetrated into the American consciousness and sparked broad interest in national service, consider a small group of upperclassmen at Broughton High in Raleigh, N.C.

They are members of an Air Force Junior ROTC program. They wear uniforms (occasionally), do drills, and conduct a flag ceremony in front of the school every morning at 8:10. When they graduate, they have a head start on a military career, if they so choose.

Let's face it, they used to be geeks. In the closed world of an American high school, Air Force dress blues are not exactly considered fashion forward. But that's changed. After Sept. 11, even adults are looking at them differently.

The day after the attacks, a few of them were having lunch in a nearby strip mall. They happened to be in uniform.

"People tell us, 'God bless you, we're proud of you.' They even salute us," says Sead Sokolovic.

Sead himself is an interesting case. He's a Bosnian Muslim who lived through the siege of Sarajevo. Six years ago, his family came to the US under a special citizenship program. War? He's ready to sign up and go tomorrow.

"The US has helped the Muslim world," he says. "In Bosnia, the US Army came and stopped the war, and I want to repay this country for that."

Among his fellow J-ROTC seniors is Phillip Peterkins, son of a middle-class African-American family from Baltimore.

Recently, Phillip wore a T-shirt to school that's all the rage: a depiction of Osama bin Laden centered in cross hairs.

One girl confronted him for wearing it. "She called me a racist," says Phillip. "Imagine that, a black person calling another black person racist."

Adam Brady is Hispanic. He's had reservations about military service, but he says today he's planning a career in the armed forces. Knowing that, the entertainments of being a high school senior - such as pickup basketball - now seem all the sweeter. "I don't want to fight, but I will fight, because it's the right thing to do," says Adam.

Russell Kingsbery is a Raleigh native and an Anglo. He likes to fish, and while casting his line the past few weeks, he's had plenty of time to think about whether the military is really right for him. Unlike his J-ROTC compatriots, he's no longer so sure.

"I was going to go in and do six years and maybe stay in after that," says Russell. "But you know how it is: You always think that you'll be in and there won't be a war."

The group all says there's a new sense of anger and desire for retribution among the majority of students at their school.

Students who used to complain about what they believe to be the bad things America has done in the world are quiet, at least for now. The whole school is experiencing something not seen among teens for generations: an upswing in patriotic fervor.

Both Phillip and Sead say they've gone out running every morning since Sept. 11. It's a new routine. It's a way of getting ready.

"I know we have to go in and stop them now," says Sead. "It's not going to work to just feed the hungry and see what happens."

* * *

There's a new patriotism, and there's a new American anger, too. Gun-buying is up. Brick-throwing is up - at the Pakistanis and other Muslim-Americans who have been the targets of a scattered but real rise in discriminatory violence.

That's because the new struggle has many fronts, and one of them is inside Americans' heads.

"In the war on terrorism, one of the most important battlefields is that inside our minds," says Dr. Redford Williams, a behavioral scientist from Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.

There is both a negative and a positive aspect of this internal struggle. As Americans are tested, they reach for the wellsprings of their strength. This means family and country - and spirituality, too.

Forty-three percent of respondents to a recent Monitor/TIPP poll said the events of Sept. 11 have made them more likely to pray. Fourteen percent said they were now more likely to attend a place of worship.

This is a result not so much a change in beliefs as a manifestation of them. In times of crisis, America's underlying religiosity just becomes more explicit.

"[Theologian and author] G.K. Chesterton was right in saying America is a nation with the soul of a church," says Richard John Newhouse, editor of First Things magazine. "We're not as secular a society as we thought."

In the US, there are havens for quiet spiritual reflection in the most unlikely of places.

Take Our Lady of the Airways Chapel. It is the oldest airline chapel in the world, founded in the 1950s.

And it is at Boston's Logan Airport, the point of origin for two of Sept. 11's hijacked jetliners.

It's not rococo. The 250-seat chapel is in the quietest part of the Logan complex, nestled between Terminals B and C. The ceilings are low. The flower arrangement is minimal, accompanied by a few candles. The occasional rumble of luggage on wheels is the only outside noise that penetrates the room.

Mass is normally attended by airline staff, airport workers, and construction crew. But on this day, only a traveling priest and an elderly Englishwoman on her way home are in attendance.

Maggie Anderson, an airline supervisor, leads the service. Its focus is "Thy will, not my will" be done.

Afterward, she says that she believes many younger airline workers, particularly those affected by the hijackings, are looking for religious consolation.

"They either lost family or lost friends," says Ms. Anderson. "I think they're turning to spirituality for some comfort, and I don't think that's unusual in time of loss."

On another note, in her daily work she has seen a remarkable change in passenger behavior. A rush to get out on a flight, and get out fast, used to be norm. Now lines are better behaved. No one shoves. Hardly anyone complains.

"The country tends to come together in crisis, and I think that this is one that has definitely opened our eyes and made us realize how valuable we are to each other," says Anderson.

* * *

In the days and months ahead, the United States is sure to be tested again by terrorist attacks, according to government officials. Those might include chemical or biological warfare. Military action will be prolonged and might involve casualties.

The US is now fighting a war that is only partly an armed battle, against an adversary that is only partly named, with the terms of victory themselves unclear.

In the end, it may not be so much a war as a new way of thinking.

The cold war, in part, was the same way, notes Richard Lamm, Colorado's iconoclastic former governor.

It began with a crystallization of national thought about the nature and significance of a national threat. Over the years, the most powerful weapon in the US arsenal was not so much guns as perseverance.

The threat today requires America to look outward in the world and take its own actions more seriously, says Mr. Lamm.

He muses that this might even mean a decline in applications to law and business schools, as students turn from the path of comfortable prosperity toward positions in the military, the clergy, and government, which promise a different kind of reward.

No longer is America an isolated island of tranquility. What happens in Kashmir affects the US. It always did, but now more people - many more - know it.

"Now everything is global," says Gregorian.

The road back to normal
Sept. 11 .

* Nineteen terrorists hijack four US passenger jets, smashing two of them into the World Trade Center. A third plane crashes into the Pentagon. The fourth plane is downed in Pennsylvania, possibly during a scuffle between some of the passengers and the hijackers. The death toll stands at more than 5,400.

Sept. 13 .

* Despite fire and power outages, many Pentagon employees return to work.

* Most of the nation's airports reopen for business.

* At the request of New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the lights go back on on Broadway.

* President Bush addresses Congress and the nation.

Sept. 14 .

* Mr. Bush announces he has called up reservists for homeland defense. Later, he tours the site of the World Trade Center attack.

* All the major networks and many cable stations simulcast a telethon, featuring stars such as Bruce Springsteen. It raises more than $150 million for victims of the attack.

Sept. 15 .

* Bush names Saudi exile Osama bin Laden the "prime suspect" in the attacks.

Sept. 17 .

* New York emergency workers ring the opening bell for the New York Stock Exchange, as trading resumes for the first time since the attacks.

* Talk-show host David Letterman returns to TV.

* Major League Baseball resumes games.

Sept. 20 .

* Bush signs into law a $40 billion package for recovery and investigation efforts.

Sept. 21 .

* Congress passes a $15 billion bailout package for the airline industry.

Sept. 23 .

* National Football League resumes its season.

Sept. 24 .

* Bush orders US flags raised to full staff.

Sept. 25 .

* New Yorkers vote in mayoral primary, originally scheduled for Sept. 11. Media tycoon Michael Bloomberg wins GOP nomination. Democrats Mark Green and Fernando Ferrer will enter a runoff Oct. 11.

Oct. 2 .

* NATO pronounces US evidence against Osama bin Laden persuasive, and members vow support.

Oct. 4 .

* Reagan National Airport in Washington reopens, the last US airport to do so.

* President Bush authorizes $320 million in aid to help Afghan refugees and citizens devastated by drought and civil war.

Oct. 7 .

* US and British jets launch attacks on more than two dozen targets against Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the Al Qaeda network.

Oct. 8 .

* Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge begins work as the head of the Office of Homeland Security.

Oct.9 .

* US jets begin daytime raids over Afghanistan - an indication that the Taliban's air defenses have been badly damaged. Civilian casualties are unknown.

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