As emotional as I am, I still can't feel what has happened as personally as many other people. This is an American tragedy, but I've never been to New York City, so I never saw that skyline the way it used to be. I've never been to Washington, so I haven't seen the Pentagon intact, except in pictures.
If I try to imagine the Transamerica Building in San Francisco crumbling to the ground, I shudder and wince, but it's just pretending, like in the movies. I think of the Golden Gate Bridge and try to picture it gone, but it's not possible.
And it's not the same anyway. I think that's why I've watched the news coverage from dawn till midnight for three days in a row. It's why I've read so many journal entries by writers who are closer to the heart of the disaster. The more I see and read, the less I feel like an outsider with little claim on the right to grieve for the losses, both human and material.
There's another kind of loss, and you don't have to know a missing person or live in Manhattan to feel it. It's the loss of complacency, the ripping away of the belief that we can foresee every possible danger and protect ourselves from it. We know a little more now about the capacity of humanity to create evil, but we also know more about our ability to survive, and our power to do great and wonderful things, when circumstances dictate.
The goodness in the depth of the human heart so outweighs the darker side of our nature that we aren't even surprised when the people in this country and our friends around the world rally around those in need of help and comfort. For all our faults, as a nation and as individuals, when we're tested we come through for each other.
I remember the Loma Prieta earthquake here in 1989, when ordinary people worked alongside police officers and firefighters, trying to save the lives of strangers. Eventually, bridges were repaired and highways were rebuilt. Even with that perspective, it's hard for me to feel what New Yorkers are feeling. I can't smell the smoke. I'm not digging through the rubble. I'm not looking across the river at the broken skyline.
Instead, I'm sitting in my living room, watching reporters tell stories of good people lost, and good people left behind. Yes, I'm crying, in sadness but also in joy. Out of the smoke and rubble, I'm seeing heroes emerge. Maybe it's their job, one they do proudly, or maybe all they did was show up and say, "I want to help." Either way, these courageous men and women far outnumber the cowardly terrorists. If you can't find hope in that, I'm sorry.