My parents were in Australia last week when the world went crazy. They called my home upon hearing the awful news that four planes had been hijacked by terrorists, and two had been crashed into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon and one in a field in Pennsylvania.
When I returned their call, the Australian hotel receptionist said they were out. He asked whether there was a message.
“Yes,” I said, “tell them Mitch, their son, is fine, and all the people we know in New York are OK.”
I heard the man exhale. Then his tone changed. He sounded like an anxious relative. “Oh, that’s such good news, Mitch. I’m sure they’ll be happy to hear that. I’ll tell them as soon as I see them. Take good care. We’re glad you’re OK.”
I didn’t know this man. He lives half a world away.
That was when I realized that it wasn’t just America. The boom of last Tuesday shook the ground beneath everyone’s feet.
A reason for concernIt is time to do two things now. It is time to find the best that can come out of tragedy. And it is time to realize that more is on the way.
Second thing first. We are going to war — or we may already be in one by the time you read this. It won’t be a war the way we used to fight. We won’t be liberating a nation. We won’t be capturing land. But we will be at war — as long as war means men and women fight and men and women die.
On the ground in Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden is reportedly hiding, we could lose many soldiers. It is slow, dangerous, plodding warfare, a type we cannot train for in the United States. And because most agree we cannot root out terrorists by air, it seems only a matter of time before our fighting forces touch down somewhere and more Americans are dead.
Then there are additional terrorist attacks. As the Israelis will tell you, terrorists do not strike once then take a few years off. Their aim is to disrupt life and wreak havoc. And if we strike out at them, their mentality will be to show us they still can strike back.
This means all airports, highways and stadiums will be on high alert and will be filled with nervous people looking over their shoulders.
A reason for hope
Now to the better part. The humanity that surges in times of crisis. There was a retired Dearborn Heights firefighter who felt last week that he needed to help. He jumped in his car and drove to New York City — a place he’d visited only once in his life — got as far as New Jersey, hooked up with a police department, and soon was on a ferry across the river to lower Manhattan, where he searched among the rubble for two days, looking for survivors.
“People treated me so well. They fed me, gave me a place to sleep,” he said.
“It was like being part of a family.”
Not like. Was. We are indeed part of a family, the family of man, and when innocent blood is shed, it isn’t “their” blood, it’s ours.
So now we go forward with that knowledge, and we don’t just “try” to get back to normal life, we succeed, because anything less would let the terrorists win. But as we go forward, we should do so with new priorities.
Remember the woman who called her husband’s answering machine as she was trapped in the World Trade Centers’ burning towers?
What did she say, through her tears? “I wanted to tell you I love you.”
The men and women who used cell phones from the doomed aircrafts? What words did they leave? “I wanted to tell you I love you.”
There is a lesson there. The last thought we have upon looking death in the face is of love, the love we need and the love we want to give out.
If that is what is important in our final moments, then it is also what is important in every moment we live from this morning on. Let’s remember that. To forget it is to turn your back on last week, and we all know how impossible that is now.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760) and simulcast on MSNBC 3-5 p.m.