September 20, 2001

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if, what if, what if? I'm going to depart from the normal format of this column, because I simply do not want to second guess or look back upon the darkest moment in our history in hindsight and speculate what could have been done differently to avoid this situation. I will not do that, and to be honest I don't know that I could because I'm not sure any of this disaster could have been avoided.

It is tough enough some weeks to find an appropriate topic for discussion. This week the subject is a given, but it is still difficult to do my job, and put my feelings about this disaster into words. I have suffered from writer's block before, but never before have I had to suffer through the numbness created by such evil. It has made it hard enough to report the news from the community, let alone discuss the source of the great sadness.

Much of my emotions I feel stem from a sense of helplessness. I can give blood, fly my U.S. flag and of course offer my prayers. Maybe it's the fact that I am a fireman, or possibly I'm just conditioned from living in a wonderful community where you don't think twice about lending a hand to a neighbor in need. Whatever the reason, I can't shake the feeling that I need to do more to help. I made a donation to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, and even that didn't seem to help. My contribution seemed futile in the wake of news about billions of dollars in damage. Then I stopped and thought, if every person in Scotland County gave just a little contribution to the cause, and then every person in northeast Missouri and every person in the state did the same, our efforts would definitely impact the situation.

I started back up the hill of emotions when I saw speakers from all different political, religious and national backgrounds agreeing that the evil will not go unpunished. I don't look at it as revenge, but more like reckoning. It was an act of war, a war which I have no doubt our country will win, as our military might is brought down upon the terrorists of the world until the threat is eliminated. I took even more comfort from the comments made about the resolve to entirely eliminate the disease, not just the particular culprits of the terrible events of September 11. President Bush stated "People who conducted these acts, and those who harbor them, will be held accountable for their actions." I believe it was Newt Gingrich on Fox News that may have echoed my sentiments more exactly when he said after today there is no neutral. You are either with us in the war against terrorism, or you are against us and will stand accountable. It was reassuring to know these acts would be punished.

It was about that time that I caught the news flash about the five firemen that were rescued from the rubble. While this proved to be an erroneous report, at the time I'm not sure if anything else could have raised my spirits more. I'm not one easily moved to heights of great emotion, but the cheers heard coming from the rescue workers was enough to bring me near to tears.

When I got back to work from my lunch break I started searching the news sites on the Internet to learn more about the miracle. That's when I came across the story of the heroic passengers on the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. The news stories told about cellular phone conversations between the passengers and family members, which indicated these individuals knew that the lunatics that had taken over the plane had plans of crashing it into a populated area. These same discussions let the world know why the plane crashed in the un-populated area that it did - because the heroes took action and fought the terrorists for control of the flight, ultimately losing their lives in the process, but saving who knows how many people in the process. Writing about it this morning still makes your heart swell up with pride.

It's the same pride you feel when you look around your small community, thousands of miles away from the crash site, where there are American flags in nearly every business front. It is the same pride we feel as we watch the efforts of the thousands of volunteers digging through the rubble by hand, risking personal injury, trying to find even one survivor. It's the same pride that makes you clinch your fists, thump your chest or simply stand up and salute the television after our president, our congressmen, our military leaders and others promise us that the perpetrators of this evil will be caught and punished. I am proud to be an American.

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