Early on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was a newly minted warehouse supervisor for a farmers cooperative.
I can remember almost exactly where a customer’s truck was parked when I overheard him telling one of my co-workers something or another about a plane crash up north.
A few minutes later, I received an urgent (landline) phone call from my wife. She had been watching NBC’s “Today” show and saw breaking coverage of the suicide attacks on the Twin Towers (and other targets).
In my first few weeks as a supervisor, I made a practice of submitting a daily report about warehouse activities. I remember my Sept. 11 entry unashamedly stated that I chose not to crack the whip on my staff that horrible day, instead allowing everyone a chance to come to terms with their shock, grief, anger and anxiety.
We humans have a knack for preserving such milestone tragedies in amber. We remember exactly where we were and who we were with when we learned about JFK’s assassination, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger or Kurt Cobain’s death.
The incremental steps that can lead to disasters? Not so much.
One day blends into another as the decisions, shortcuts and rationalizations of our unexamined lives affect us and those around us.
True, some people are introspective enough that they can retroactively acknowledge regrettable patterns (think “Cat’s in the Cradle”), but most of us feel blindsided and start finger-pointing when things go wrong.
It’s ridiculous to think that the bullying we unloaded on Billy last Friday (or was it last Thursday?) could ever snowball into his committing suicide. But such things happen.
Election time again? Okay, pull the lever for the candidate with the biggest smile, flashiest celebrity endorsements and wildest promises. Collect your “I Voted” sticker. Then act surprised when the city, state or country falls apart. Lather, rinse, repeat.
We get a little more desensitized every time we “dodge a bullet.” If we’ve made it so far without fixing the brakes or having the house wiring inspected, why not kick the can down the road a little farther? Oh, yeah — all that hassle with the fire engines and the Jaws of Life.
We know the shock of stepping on the doctor’s scales, even though the individual indulgences that contributed to our weight gain are long forgotten.
If we’re one of many people enabling a substance abuser, we can act innocent when they wind up in prison or the grave.
We pass up a local mom-and-pop store “just this once” so many times that mom and pop eventually hang up a “Going out of business” sign.
Unless we keep a detailed diary, we couldn’t really enumerate all the ways in which we’ve frittered away the last five or 10 years; but in times of crisis, the fruits of our non-labors become painfully obvious. We haven’t learned a new skill/language, gained any new friends or made a lasting contribution to the community.
As 9/11 anniversary follows 9/11 anniversary, I hope our citizens and institutions will always remember the victims of the sneak attack. I hope we will always be vigilant about terrorism, whether foreign or domestic.
But I also hope we can live deliberately every day — discerning good from evil, calculating unintended consequences.
That’s how we can really obtain a happier, fairer, safer world.
(Danny Tyree’s column is distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.)