Over our dead bodies: nation stands together to fa

Posted: Sep 17, 2001 12:00 AM
Remember Gary Condit? Chandra Levy? Andrea Yates? ... Remember gender issues? Postpartum depression? Twentysomething angst? My husband called from work around 10 o'clock on the morning of Sept. 11 and said just this: "Oh, to have the problems of yesterday." Since then we've all learned the details of the catastrophic events that inspired that thought. By the time this column appears in print, we will have learned more. Already, it is hard to remember life as it used to be. The petty concerns of a rich, sated nation became, in an instant, irrelevant. Our lives, we know, will never be the same. As we count our dead, it is too soon to count our blessings. But one of these is worth noting as it may help us through whatever lies ahead. It is that we are, in spite of our occasional differences, a fundamentally good, courageous, loyal and heroic people. The acts of individual heroism we've witnessed and heard about these past several days are too numerous to mention. The firemen and police officers who perished trying to help others humble us. The neighbors and strangers who reached out to one another make us proud. Above all these, however, is the example of the men on United Flight 93 who looked terrorism in the eye and said, "Over our dead bodies." By now the story is familiar. At least two of the men on the flight hijacked from Newark - Jeremy Glick and Thomas Burnett - called their wives on cell phones and said that a group of the men had decided to take matters into their own hands. They apparently reached that decision - by vote, bless their democratic hearts - after learning that two hijacked planes already had smashed into the World Trade Center towers. According to one of the callers, a passenger on the flight already had been stabbed to death. Given the inevitability of their own deaths, the men decided to take charge. At this writing, we don't know exactly what happened, but witnesses on the ground have said that the plane flew erratically for a few minutes, then plunged to the ground. We try to imagine those final moments and to guess what we might have done. I think we can be reasonably certain that most of us - under the same circumstances, with the same understanding - would have done the same thing. In the same way, we are certain that no American pilot would knowingly fly his plane into a populated area, and certainly not a building. I have little doubt that, given more time to gather her wits, Barbara Olson would have pitched in to help stop the terrorists who commandeered her flight from Dulles Airport. Olson, the ubiquitous TV commentator whose arresting smile put even her own political views in humorous perspective, was on her cell phone, asking her husband what to do when the plane went down. Though a nation of fiercely independent individuals, we are capable of unity. Ironically, our relative prosperity has permitted us to forget that defining fact. Our behavior toward one another in recent years - our splintering into groups and bickering over blame - now should be a source of embarrassment as well as an inspiration never to go back. Some observers of America have predicted that we eventually would defeat ourselves from within. They were almost right. Effective Sept. 11, we are again one people, one body united to honor the dead, to defend liberty and the living. To look terrorism in the eye and say: "Over our dead bodies."