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Americans share their their thoughts on what's different since Sept. 11

How have we been changed?

Posted: Sunday, October 14, 2001

A Nobel Prize winner wonders how rationality could fail so completely. A singer feels the need to ''stand up'' with her voice, and raise spirits. A former college president thinks about how Americans can reach out to a world with so many have-nots.

In the weeks since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, we've been told again and again that everything has changed. Here, prominent Americans explain how their own lives have been altered.

THE REV. THEODORE HESBURGH, president emeritus, University of Notre Dame:

''I never had anything happen in the world that hit me harder than this. This had me dragging for a week afterward, though I'm an optimistic guy at heart. This illustrates that we've got a lot of people who hate us and we've got to figure out why and do something about it.

''I go back to an old Latin motto, opus justitiae pax, peace is the work of justice. We've known 20 percent of the people in the world have 80 percent of the goodies, which means the other 80 percent have to scrape by on 20 percent.

''Today, in a flash of light, everyone in the world knows we are an extremely prosperous, free, almost profligate country. Now people know we have it and they don't. ... It isn't that we stole it, or conquered with military forces, but people from all over the world, together, have come to America to create a great nation.''

JUDY KAYE, actress, one of the three female leads in ''Mamma Mia!'', the ABBA musical now in preview performances on Broadway:

''I feel that we are on a mission here to try to help America smile a little bit right now. We are going to return to the realities of where we are as a nation, mourning and rebuilding and taking stock. But I think in order to be able to do that with a clear head, you need to escape for a couple of minutes and lighten your heart a little bit.

''I know as actors, we've had to do that. It's been very, very hard. I lost two good friends at the Trade Center. I leave the theater and for no reason at all, I find myself starting to cry. But I know when I am here (in the theater) I feel better. I am in 'Mamma Mia!' land.''

REP. JOHN LEWIS, D-Ga., civil rights activist who was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee:

''During my lifetime, I've seen a lot of violence. I've been a victim of violence. I was beaten by a mob in Montgomery. I was beaten to a concussion at the Pettis bridge in Selma 36 years ago. I witnessed the assassination of President Kennedy. I was 23. I witnessed the assassination of Martin Luther King, my friend, my leader and my brother. I had just finished talking with Bobby Kennedy just before he was shot to death. But I have never seen anything to compare with what I watched on TV Sept. 11.

''We went to ground zero a week ago and it made me cry. Never had I seen such devastation. I know I'll never be the same. I told the people in my district the following Sunday that we take a lot for granted in this life. But we can't anymore. And we have to be more vigilant.''

CYNTHIA OZICK, essayist and author of ''The Shawl'' and ''The Puttermesser Papers'' who, in early September, was reading about how writer Virginia Woolf despaired in the early days of World War II (''Though doomed,'' Woolf wrote, ''I quietly nibble at my page every day.''):

''I could not do my daily nibbling on my novel. It seemed so irrelevant, even though, curiously enough, it's set in 1933, at the beginning of another long, extended grappling with wickedness. And it's a wickedness that was not so different -- it does so feel like a new Hitler has arisen in much more than the limited world of Germany.

''I feel the metaphysical strangeness, the eeriness, the mystery that this tiny, tiny little sliver of Jewish homeland (Israel) is so hated, and the wish to eradicate it is so universal.''

DR. HAROLD VARMUS, president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York:

''I don't personally feel my own life is at risk, but it emphasizes for me ... what is most valuable. (As head of Sloan-Kettering, I feel) fierce determination to prove that what we're trying to do in treating and learning better ways to treat and prevent cancer is still extremely important, and state emphatically and enthusiastically that New York is still a wonderful place.

''We can't close our eyes to the fact that there are people in the world who say they understand the (terrorists') anger. I think we need to understand it as best we can, too ... This general notion that there's widespread resentment against advanced economies, against globalization, ought to be taken seriously. There are legitimate complaints.''

REGIE GIBSON, 34-year-old former national slam poetry champion and teacher who lives in Belmont, Mass.:

''I do tend to believe a nation, a people, does not really develop until it's been tested, and I think a lot of nations have been tested many more times than we have been.

''I looked at it not only as a devastating loss of human life, but also as potential for human beings in this country to understand the sacredness of all life -- and not just when it's a devastating loss of American life.

''My interest has always been more in how we as human beings deal with struggle than the actual events themselves. How do we as humans come back and survive this type of an assault to ... construct a new vision of who we are?

''Maybe it will affect the way audiences look at poetry now. It has the potential for people to say, 'What good is art? Poetry's not going to stop people from doing this to us!'

''And there are those people who will remind them that beauty is still there.''

ARTHUR FROMMER, travel expert:

''We owe it to ourselves to continue to travel. Travel is a great privilege. It has become an essential part of life to most Americans ... It's essential to our understanding of the world.

''I appreciate my family more with every day that passes. I have been very aware of my inner life and the spiritual side of existence, as all Americans have. I'm concerned about what will happen but I'm determined not to let it change my life.

''We've been an unusually lucky people for far too long. We've never had our cities bombed. Now we're living like the rest of the world.

CHARLES COLSON, former White House counsel convicted in the Watergate scandal, now chairman of Prison Fellowship Ministries, author and radio commentator:

''I personally have thought very little about my 401k or IRA or next summer's vacation plans.

''What it has done for me in terms of ministry is to renew my commitment to spread the Gospel. I think all over America people are hungry; church attendance is up across the board, and friends in England tell me that people are continuing to pack churches. People are asking serious questions, not about the frivolities of life but about the serious questions: relationship with God, who we are, why we're here, how can bad things like this happen, is there any hope?

''Most of the things that occupied my attention before Sept. 11 have suddenly taken a much less significant place in my scheme of things.''

JOANNE SHENANDOAH, Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter who lives in the Oneida Indian Nation in upstate New York:

''The night before Desert Storm, I wrote a song, 'Don't change the way that I love my baby.' It's about my angel sleeping in the next room. This is about our children. Let's not destroy the world, let's change it.

''On a daily basis I pray that there will be unity and peace somehow, some way. I really want that to happen. I stand up with my voice. If it's done in a good and positive way, I think people will want to listen. I can have people in a crowd -- they don't have the same beliefs, the same mind-set, the same culture -- and, somehow, I can bring their minds together. And that's what I'm supposed to do. While it is difficult to sing at a time of such grief, I can still retain the message of peace and help to try to lift people's spirits. And that's what my responsibility is on this earth.''

DANIEL McFADDEN, economist, University of California at Berkeley; co-winner, 2000 Nobel Prize for economics:

"(The attacks have) caused me a good many sleepless nights and a lot of angst about the nature of human behavior. It's difficult for someone who teaches about rational behavior and rational ways to do conflict resolution -- it's disturbing to see the principles of rationality fail so starkly.

''One of the findings of the careful study of rationality is that sometimes people simply do not reason through the consequences of their actions so although they may be able to articulate something about each step that they take, they don't seem to be able to put it all together. I must say it mystifies me how anyone could deliberately seek a non-peaceful way to resolve conflicts.

''One of my reactions to this is -- welcome to the world community. I guess I feel now the way probably about a couple of billion people in the world do, which is they don't feel entirely safe.''

JONATHAN FRANZEN, author of the acclaimed novel, ''The Correction'':

''Even as I found fault with it, and laughed at it, I participated in that self-absorption of the '90s. There was a kind of blissful, enchanted childish innocence. You don't grow up at once; you grow up again and again, and this is the point for growing up for a lot of people. That includes me.

''I feel like I should be really up (because of the book) and I'm not. And it's not simply road weariness. It's as if the nation is holding its breath.

''That's what I feel about this tour. I wanted to do it, and yet there's no way around the fact that it doesn't feel quite the same. The part I like is meeting 100 people or 200 people or 300 people every night, just actually being reminded of how many smart, good people are out there. But that only lasts an hour and a half.''

JOYCE CAROL OATES, author and Princeton University professor, currently working on a novel about Love Canal:

''One of my students is from New York and said, 'The only way I can deal with this is focus on my work, one day at a time.'

''I think we all are confronted with the sense of living a real tragedy and those of us who work with the imagination have to consider that the imagination has often been overwhelmed by history.''

''I'm focusing on heroic behavior, ethical behavior and moral behavior and how people become heroic. The problem for most serious writers is how to keep the problem complex and ambiguous enough so we're not just writing about current events.''

RUSSELL MEANS, American Indian activist who helped lead the 1973 protest uprising at Wounded Knee, S.D., now running for governor of New Mexico:

''It's what I used to see when I was behind the so-called Iron Curtain touring Eastern Europe. It's what I used to see in Nicaragua and Colombia. ... (The attacks and security changes that followed) increased the fear I've always had of the ongoing deprivation of individual liberties and violations of the U.S. Constitution by the federal government. My concern is that the government has lost all constitutional responsibility and has become an outlaw. Unless Americans hold our government's feet to the constitutional fire, it's only going to get worse.''

ANDY WILLIAMS, singer, whose Andy Williams Moon River Theater in Branson, Mo., has seen a 6 percent to 8 percent decline in business since the attacks:

''To go around in fear is one of the ugliest, worst things imaginable, and I think it's affected everyone in the same way.''

''Branson is probably as safe a place as you can find, except we're living a half mile below a great big dam that they say is supplying electricity to three states and an Army base. ... And it goes through your mind. Everybody is on edge.''

''It's a devastating thing. It isn't just the trade center being bombed -- that's bad enough -- and the Pentagon ... but it's everything. It's like somebody going through your house robbing you and going through your drawers. It's the privacy that I think they have taken away from us.''



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