9/11 20 years later

Note to self: When getting in the car wearing a face mask, remove the mask before you start to drive. I suspect that it looked a bit like a comedy routine. I got into the car wearing a face mask. We’re wearing them quite a bit with the Delta variant still active in our community. I’m not completely sure of the exact order, but I fastened my seatbelt, rolled down the window (ok there is no handle to “roll” - I pushed a button), backed the car out of a parking space and put the car in drive. As I started to pull out of the parking lot, I remembered my face mask and reached up and pulled it off with my left hand. The strap of the mask, which had been around my ear, somehow got wrapped around the bow of my glasses and I pulled my glasses off as I pulled the mask. For a minute, I though my glasses were going to fly out the window, but somehow they remained attached to the mask. I was able to stop the car, retrieve my glasses, and put them on without causing an accident. Next time, remove the mask before putting the car in motion.

Somehow, despite moments of distraction and a bit of old fashioned clumsiness, I have so far avoided a serious disaster when driving. I really don’t see very well without my glasses. My driver’s license specifies that I must wear corrective lenses when driving. We see car accidents, mostly fender-benders, nearly every day around here. Each place we have lived has had its own sense of quirkiness in the way drivers take to the roads. In South Dakota, it took a while for cars to react to a red light. The light would turn yellow and the cars would continue to enter the intersection. When it turned red, often two or three or more cars would continue to pull into the intersection before the flow of traffic yielded to those whose light was green. Once you get used to it, you learn how to drive defensively. Never perform a rabbit start at a green light. Always expect someone to be running the red. Here in Washington, people don’t stop for “right turn on red after a stop.” Often they don’t even look, they just pull into the intersection. You learn to watch out for them when driving around town. Another thing they do is merge into freeway traffic without looking. If you are driving on the freeway, keep your eyes on the traffic merging from the ramps. Instead of judging the speed of the flowing traffic, drivers just drive up the ramp and when the lanes merge act as if there is no traffic in the lane they are entering. I’ve learned to really watch those drivers, even if it means slowing 15 or 20 miles per hour to avoid them.

We learn from the things that frighten us - at least we ought to. Fear can be an effective teacher if it isn’t overwhelming.

From face masks to freeway driving, a lot has changed in my life in the past 20 years. Our children have become adults with children of their own. I have moved from the leadership of a dynamic congregation to a role with a lot less stress and shorter hours. Our parents have died and we have become the oldest generation of our family.

On this 20th anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, it makes sense to look back and think of the changes that have occurred. The United States spent almost all of those 20 years at war with other countries. Despite the fact that the attacks weren’t launched by another government, and were planned in a country that has been considered to be an ally of the United States, wars were waged that toppled governments in two nations. It is hard to say whether or not those wars increased safety and security for US citizens. I don’t think we feel more safe.

20 years later, technology has moved even deeper into our everyday lives. I remember watching the collapse of the world trade center towers on televisions that were rolled into rooms on carts - first at Stevens High School and later in our church office. We don’t roll televisions around on cars any more. We have video screens on our phones. My watch vibrates when there is a major news story breaking and I can see the headlines by looking at it.

20 years later social media has come to dominate much of our lives. People quote Facebook and Twitter as if they were sources of truth.

20 years later the interpretation truth seems to have slipped from our common discourse. Bold face lies are told as if they were simply political opinions. Not only have we witnessed a US President who constantly lied about everything from his weight to his golf scores to his health to his political promises, we have seen a nominee for the Supreme Court of the United States boldly tell direct lies under oath in hearings before the United States Senate. I’m sure there have always been people who lie, but the official sanctioning of lies - or at least the acceptance of lies in public discourse seems to have changed dramatically in the past 20 years.

20 years later the brief sense of unity that seemed to be a part of our national discourse following the attacks seems to have evaporated. Our nation is definitely not more united than it was following those attacks. For a brief time partisan politics were set aside and representatives and senators of both parties joined together to pass important legislation. It is hard to imagine that sense of unity moving into Washington DC in this era. Armed insurrectionists stormed the US capitol, overwhelmed capitol police and places the lives of those serving in the building at risk. In the aftermath of those attacks, partisanship has only increased, not decreased. A direct attack on the government of the United States is interpreted by some as acceptable behavior if it promotes their political viewpoint.

I hope I have learned from some of my mistakes. It is less clear that our nation is learning from its mistakes. 20 years later I feel a bit older and a bit wiser. Our country, however, seems to have only grown older. In fact it seems as if it is a bit less wise and a bit more foolish. We have a lot to learn in the next 20 years.