Renewal of the American Spirit

It is hard to believe that it has been six months since that fate filled day that changed America forever. In the weeks and months that followed there has been a real renewal of the ...

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It is hard to believe that it has been six months since that fate filled day that changed America forever. In the weeks and months that followed there has been a real renewal of the American Spirit. Our nation as a whole has genuinely pulled together. Small towns have stood in solidarity with each other, especially in communities where men and women died directly as a result of those terrorist attacks.z

At least in New York we have a revived appreciation for what the police and fire service do to protect our lives. There is a renewed respect for all emergency service workers and their daily challenges. All of these public servants risk their lives for others on a daily basis.

The Viet Nam War changed those of us who grew up in the fifties and sixties. During that war, for the first time in our history we saw the casualties of war in our own living rooms. Many of us lived with the draft, fearing that one of our family members might be called. Viet Nam was a war that ripped at the heart of America, at the heart of every American family.

We lived with a certain level of anxiety - the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs and escalation of the fighting in Viet Nam. In the sixties, we did not delude ourselves. We knew we were vulnerable. There was civil unrest everywhere.

Generation X has grown up with relative material prosperity. They have seen the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of apartheid in South Africa. Until the mid-nineties, there was relative peace in the world.

In speaking with my college students, prior to 9-11 they felt there was definitely an air of invincibility afoot among them. They could not relate to the civil unrest of the sixties, the fear of war or real oppression.

Shortly after 9-11, most Americans were frightened. Our continental borders had never been violated. Our cities have never really been terrorized or attacked. Terrorism was seen in other parts of the world, but not here at home.

Out of the rubble of the Twin Towers came a new spirit. It was born out of tremendous sacrifice and heroism. There has been a renewed sense of community across the country. Families have been forced to reorder their values and priorities. Most of us have realized, very painfully, that life is very fragile and time is not within our control. Thus, we need to live each moment to the fullest because we don't know if we will ever pass this way again.

Spirituality has moved more toward the center of people's journey. Acquiring toys and things seems less important. Strengthening relationships seems of greater value.

The harshness that once was, seems so much softer. People everywhere are crossing lines that were never crossed before. It is so much more obvious that a growing number of people are more interested in the content and character of another, rather than in their status and power.

However, like many horrific tragedies, as time passes the intensity of that memory fades. For many, September 11th will live on in our hearts and heads as if it happened yesterday. That event will continue to profoundly influence how we live and the choices we make in a positive way.

Unfortunately, for many disconnected young people life is back to normal. So is much of their decision making. Their thoughts of being invincible have moved back to center stage. Not thinking about consequences and how their impulsive choices affect them and those around them will continue to shackle their families.

Over the last number of months, the local media have reported countless stories of reckless behavior ending in lethal outcomes. Losing a child at any age is every parent's nightmare. Losing a teenage son or daughter because of recklessness that could have been avoided is almost unbearable to think about. Unfortunately, there are a growing number of parents facing these preventable tragedies.

Death at seventeen is death. It cannot be fixed or changed, no matter what one's religion. It still remains death. What does one say to a Mom preparing to bury her seventeen year old son who was the passenger in a car where the driver, under the influence of pot, was encouraged to drag race on a well known highway with few lights? At ninety-five miles per hour, the driver lost control of the car, went off the road, hit a tree and killed himself, the seventeen year old boy and the two other passengers in the car. The community those young people were from was numb. The grieving was intense. Many of the young people who were at the funeral said they had learned an important lesson from that horrific tragedy.

Unfortunately, a week later a number of high school kids from the same community were back drag racing and challenging death all over again. Whatever lesson they learned the week before was obviously short-lived.

MJ is a college coed. He is nineteen. He is an average student from a reasonable household. His parents put few restrictions on him. He goes to college and works regularly. He is reasonably helpful with projects that benefit the family. His parents know that he drinks and smokes pot. To the best of their knowledge, they have never seen him really drunk or exceptionally stoned. They will concede that they have noticed him come home high.

When asked why they have not confronted him since he is underage and pot smoking is against the law, they responded, "he seems to manage everything else so well, this is probably just a phase he is going through; what harm could his behavior cause?"

It caused a lot of harm, not to others, but to themselves. One Friday night during the summer, MJ was partying hardy with his buddies. They had a designated driver so MJ and his friends lit up the town. They were smoking and drinking up a storm.

Around 3am, they decided to go home. Everyone but the designated driver was pretty wasted. They were all going to be driven safely home. MJ did not want a ride. He insisted he could walk, that it would be good for him. His friends backed off and went home.

MJ started to walk home. He was really intoxicated and stoned. He was crossing a street that was busy even at 3am and was hit by a car going 50mph, that did not see him. The car threw him fifty feet. The accident scene was awful. From what you could see at the street corner, you would question how anyone could have survived. MJ lived. Half the bones in his body were broken. He was in a coma for two weeks and because of the sever head injuries, he was brain impaired forever.

Today MJ walks with a pronounced limp. He slurs his speech and is limited in his cognitive skills due to his head injuries. He remembers everything that happened to him that night. Most importantly, he remembers being stoned and getting wasted. He knows that that if he hadn't been, he might be away at school right now living his life differently. Those hopes and dreams will never come to pass because MJ gave into some reckless impulses on a hot summer Friday night, believing like many his age that his life was invincible.