I was leaving my townhouse last month to go to work, struggling with getting out of the drive and into the heavy traffic, and had all but given up. Sinking myself into morbid thoughts of how drab life really was, I suddenly became aware of a lull in the passing traffic. When I looked up, I was met with the sight of a middle-aged mother smiling at me from her stopped Astro van and waving me into traffic ahead of her.
I didnt know my rescuer, did not have a chance to ask her name, and probably will never see her again. But that one act of kindness renewed my faith in simple human compassion. Rest assured that this was not the last time I received such demonstration of neighborly kindness; I have been on both the receiving and sending end several times since.
On another day, much later, I witnessed a small boy attempting to buy some candy at a local convenience store. It was obvious that the child did not have enough money to pay for his selection of goodies, but the manager took what he had and said Never mind. Your dad can pay me back the next time he comes in.
After the boy and the manager had left, another clerk looked at me and, with and amused smile on her face, said That was a lie. He doesnt even know that kids dad. I reflected as I left the store on this, and other examples, of a new compassion, dignity and pride that I have witnessed since that fateful date of Sept. 11.
It raises its beautiful head in some of the oddest ways. I see it in the quiet patriotism of a child going to school with a flag embroidered on his book bag. It is reflected by a middle-aged mother in her minivan, or a store owner closing one eye to a payment which doesnt cover the cost of a purchase. I can also see it in the open pride of a school which invites firefighters, military, or emergency service fathers to come have lunch with the children.
It has become an almost empty rhetorical statement to say that the world and America have changed since Sept. 11. But that is because we look for the change in sources outside of ourselves.
The real change that has taken place is within our own minds and souls; not revolutionary change in government, or great advances in the war. For many of us, those transformations were almost instantaneous with the event.
On that horrible day, my wife decided that she could no longer go to her job, but must stay home with our daughter. She called me at approximately 9 a.m. to tell me that she had quit. And, somehow, I didnt care. It was unimportant. The only thing which was important in the wake of that first morning attack was not how much income we had but that I keep my family safe and intact. The value of my family life was suddenly more of a concern than the bank account.
This shift in values and outlook, I think, is the best way to view the changes which have come about in America. As my father would have said, it was the day America woke up and smelled the coffee. For the second time in American history, our country was viciously attacked by a foreign enemy and innocent lives were paid. In a moment of unprecedented horror the world quite being a cotton-candy dream, and became a hungry wolf environment.
On that day, deep within our souls, we all realized that we could be annihilated at any time, at any place, by any enemy. With that realization came also the understanding that life could not be a mundane existence; that it must take on a new fervor. The quality of our lives, and the values which had taken a back seat during the 60s - family, neighborly love, community pride, and moral justice - abruptly became primary. As they became primary, so also did our confidence in what America is, and in what it has been. The bravery of our common soldiers, firefighters, and emergency service personnel was no longer for only their families; it became part of the fabric of American pride and morale.
By way of these observations, I am not as concerned today for our status in the war on terrorism. We will prevail; that is a given, so long as we, as a nation, keep these values sacred and do not lose sight of the lessons learned a year ago. We exist in a world which, in many ways, has reverted to barbarism. It is populated with an enemy whose own values are the very opposite of ours. It is an enemy for whom human life has no value and is measured only by what it gains by sacrificing that human life.
A coworker has a painting of a wolf standing in a forest. On first sight, that is all you see - a single wolf. But by studying the painting further you begin to realize that there are other wolves whose forms blend with the background in such a way that only the keenest observer would ever notice them.
Yes, we will prevail so long as we hold our own moral fiber sacred and remember, as my coworker says, that for every wolf in the foreground there are 10 more lying in wait.
(Dennis Jones is a Martinez resident.)
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