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Thursday, September 27, 2001

It hit me last night as I lay in bed, not sleeping. The thought "I want it to be the way it used to be" swept over me in a wave of grief.

I don't want to see our embassy burning or long airport lines or bin Laden's face every time I turn on the television. I don't want to see those fiery images burning in my brain. I don't mind the flags — they're kind of cool — but do I have to hear "God Bless America" five times a day? It starts losing a little of the impact after three or four times.

It's not that I want to forget (not really). It's that I want it never to have happened. I don't want any more moments of silence because I don't want all those people to have died.

I want to go back to thinking that George W. Bush is a clueless muddler elevated beyond his abilities by a renegade Supreme Court. (It felt good to say that, even if it's an irrelevant and obsolete sentiment now.) I want to be horrified that the polls show he has a 90% approval rating, as I would be horrified to see any president that widely praised.

I want other news to matter again, even if it's news about Gary Condit. (Was that his name?) I want to care that Janet Reno is running for governor of Florida and Jesse Helms is leaving the Senate. I want to hear about Ichiro and Anne Heche and the Harry Potter movie. I want to worry about social security and toxic waste. I want war to be something that happens long ago and far away.

I want personal privacy not to be inconvenient any more. I want convenience not to be inconvenient. I want to go into stadiums and tall buildings without being searched or suspected. I want jet planes to fly overhead while I take no notice at all. I want freedom of speech to be such an inviolable principle that anyone who suggested restricting it would be shouted down.

I want to laugh again, freely, without wincing when I think of all the laughter that's gone out of the world. I want to laugh at silly, pointless jokes, and at pointed political humor. I want Woody Allen and the Smothers Brothers and "I Love Lucy" to be as funny now as they used to be, Before. I want to appreciate "Saturday Night Live" the way I did in 1975. (Okay, that's probably asking too much.)

I want to cry again over something besides the news. I want to cry over books where lost dogs come home, over movies that show heroes overcoming great obstacles, and over telenovelas in which the child in the orphanage and the parent in the jail cell don't know that the other is still alive until they're reunited in the last episode. I want to cry over Hallmark commercials. I want to cry for happiness instead of grief.

I want life and death to be real again. Life goes on, even after a loved one dies. We shouldn't have to absorb thousands of deaths in one morning, and try to move on. Many people died today, I'm sure, but not six thousand in the same place at the same time. Life is strong and precious and can't be extinguished with such careless ease. It just can't happen, because no one would deliberately do it. I want to go back to believing that. Like Before.

blue sky, with clouds

I don't want to lose what we've gained. I don't want to take police officers and firefighters for granted, the way we did Before. I always want New York to be a city of heroes, the way it is now. I want to hold on to the boundary-blurring feelings that have former enemies, political and otherwise, on the same side, with the same goals. I want love to overwhelm hate.

And the flags. I want the flags to fly forever.

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