Living 2002 in house and heart

Posted: Jan 03, 2002 12:00 AM
The new millennium, despite what the calendar says, actually arrived on Sept. 11, 2001, borne on the wings of evil. How we redefine ourselves in light of the events of that awful day will determine who we are and what we do with the Age of Terror. The early returns are hopeful. The suicide bombers delivered a change as dramatic to the landscape of history as the events of that other awful day in a distant December that lives still in infamy. We rose to the occasion then, undaunted in our will to strike back against those who tried to destroy America. In the sweep of the century just past, we endured some mighty blows, but each time we regained our balance, re-evaluating what was important and what wasn't, what deserved our commitment and what didn't. We acted accordingly. Trendspotters and pundits at this time of every year attempt to identify sweeping changes in world views, and fit events into trends, forced and off the mark as some of the speculation may be. We write hopefully at the end of 2001 of the "return of the manly man," citing as examples the firefighters and policemen who risked and sometimes lost their lives trying to rescue victims of terror in lower Manhattan. They became romantic heroes, men with the right stuff, no gloss necessary. Women can begin the new year with renewed appreciation for being born in America, counting our blessings against the grim reality that many women in the Middle East must face, many living in thankless subservience to men who have no respect for them. In the most perverse twist of the year, the High Islamic Council of Hamas, the terrorist syndicate, decreed that women could become suicide bombers, just like men. In her attempt to take advantage of her new equal opportunity, a 23-year-old Palestinian mother of two children was arrested in a Tel Aviv bus station with 13 pounds of explosives, just before she became a martyr. (It's not clear what she would do with her 72 virgins in paradise.) In striking contrast, American men and women of all classes and religions gave of themselves to preserve life, volunteering blood, sweat and tears, literally and figuratively, digging through the rubble of the World Trade Center in search of traces of the dead. Walter Lippmann wrote that the quality of the news of a modern society is an index to its social organization. Presenting that news without cant or dramatization becomes crucial. Reporters, at their best, rise to the occasion. Some of the best-read pages of The New York Times since Sept. 11 have been those of the short obituary sketches of those who died at the World Trade Center. These are snapshots of the living rather than the dead, illustrating how these men and women lived and loved, and how they were loved by those left behind. These portraits offer sustenance to all of us in the new year. Here are mothers, fathers, friends, husbands and wives, lovers, aunts, uncles, sisters and brothers who live on in the tiny details of remembrance, little things that make a person important to self and others. Most of all they show respect for bonds of friendship and family. They are bowlers and soccer players, lovers of rock, opera and jazz, nurturers of the young and the old, who sacrificed time and self to make life better for those around them. Stories that could have descended into corn and schmaltz become instead cornucopias of possibility, bequeathing flashes of immortality flowing into the new year. These short profiles will become a book that should be a wonderful volume to turn to in the trying days ahead. I'm thinking especially of Samantha, a 4-year-old whose daddy died in the World Trade Center. When grown-up mourners told Samantha that she would always have her daddy in her heart, she cut to the chase as only a child can: "I don't want daddy in my heart, I want daddy in my house." Her father had promised to teach her how to play soccer when she turned 5. Her two older brothers, ages 9 and 7, have promised to teach her to play soccer in his place. I believe they will. The promise of 2002 is in the house and the heart.