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Monday, November 12, 2001

Well, it doesn't take much to bring us back to earth, does it? It's a short distance from JFK to Rockaway, and it didn't take the plane long to get there. All of a sudden, the pictures on the television screen remind us how fragile life is, and how quickly it can be snuffed out. Whether or not today's crash has anything more sinister behind it than a random mechanical failure, it brought back the horrible images from two months ago. Who could hear about it and not think, "Is this happening again?"

But it appears, at least for now, that it isn't the work of the Evil Ones. And that's good, because we need this to be an accident. We're desperate to believe that a plane could fall out of the sky for no reason other than a bad part, a loose screw, something that was missed by a maintenance worker. Something that could have been fixed, a one-in-a-million chance that won't happen again, in two months or two years.

If we can believe that, maybe we can get past our fears and go back to our normal lives. Some people almost made it, until today. This is either a setback that we can recover from (unless we were on that flight or in that neighborhood), or the crushing blow that finishes off the airline industry, the economy, and life as we know it. That's why it has to be an accident.


The water pouring off the roof in the midst of this morning's big rainstorm.

Just when I thought it was safe to turn off CNN, we had another one of those days. I'm grateful for the presence of Aaron Brown, who helps me know that what I'm feeling is right and proper. Should I be this outraged over the video of families at the Santo Domingo airport, wailing in pain and disbelief? Definitely. Aaron Brown is outraged, and after he tells his producer so, the shot is replaced by the calm, concerned face of ... Aaron Brown, of course.

It's impossible not to be affected by this, even on the other side of the country. But I'd guess the people of New York might wish the next catastrophe would happen to somebody else. It seems so unfair, just when they were starting a new ad campaign to bring the tourists back, to be exposed to an image of smoke and rubble once again. How resilient do you have to be before you can admit you've had enough?


The sky started to clear a bit this afternoon, just in time for the sun to go down.

Obviously, the world is a much bigger place than my little rainy corner of it can comprehend. And history is much bigger than the current "situation," or even than the current war. Wars and disasters recede into the past and are replaced by the memories they leave us. The more we call on those memories, the easier it becomes to put the present into context.

Last night HBO aired a Veterans Day special in which old soldiers from the worst days of World War II recalled their experiences. After the smoke clears and only the survivors remain, it's up to us to let them bring to life those who paid the highest price of all. It's a timely reminder, in these dark days, that many thousands have died so that we can live in as much freedom as the world has ever known.

It seems that real heroes have their heroism thrust upon them. They're the ones who are just doing their jobs, the best they know how. Someone who sets out to become a hero is more likely to fail than someone who's faced with a challenge and responds by doing the right thing. When we honor veterans, we're showing that we understand how difficult doing the right thing can be, and that we appreciate the effort and sacrifice it takes.

This message should be penetrating the national psyche as we again send our men and women into harm's way, for the benefit of future generations. These children, yet to be born, will see more clearly than we can the historical impact of the current struggle.

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