Our world has been changed. We have been changed. Emblazoned in our collective consciousness are indelible, fresh images of unspeakable carnage. We will carry these images with us - shaped in psychic scar tissue - for the rest of our lives.
For some of us, September 11 will mark the date we lost an acquaintance, a colleague, or a loved one. For many of us, especially our children, it will mark the date we lost a certain degree of innocence. For all of us, it will mark a dark milestone on the landscape of our memories.
My 11-year-old son came home from school that Tuesday with an unsettling bloodlust in his eyes. He had seen the events unfold and was having a purely visceral reaction. Decorum prevents me from recounting all his suggestions for acts of retaliation, but suffice it to say that the U.S. position as a nuclear superpower figured prominently among them.
I tried to settle him down and to explain that it would be difficult to avoid hurting innocent people if we just reacted without thinking, but his frustration and anger were beyond attenuation. He fumed and boiled and spouted epithets that surprised even my salty sensibilities.
However, just below the surface of his preadolescent bluster and fury, I could sense a stifled cascade of terrified tears. I felt powerless to console him, and that angered me. He'll never look at the sky the same way again, and neither will I.
I tried to remember what it was like when I was his age. Oh sure, I had reasons to be afraid when I was a kid, too, but they were a little less omnipresent than the chance sighting of a commercial airliner. The sparks that fueled my fears were a little more "abstract" than that, though the fears themselves seem every bit as real in my recollection.
I grew up a few miles west of a U.S. Air Force base, and although I'm a little too young to remember the "duck and cover" drills my older brother had to practice, I do remember growing up with the perpetual fear of nuclear conflagration. My nightmares emanated from a bright white light that flashed suddenly on the eastern horizon. The few minutes of life left to me, before that light would inevitably erase all vestiges of my little world, seemed to pass by so very slowly. It was a relief to wake up in the darkness.
My father was a professor at a local college, and during the summer months he taught a course on fallout-shelter analysis for the government. He tried to ease my fears, too, by telling me that our little Air Force base would be among the last targets in any real "shooting war." Somehow, as I remember, his words didn't help all that much. It was the unquestioning and unconditional love in his eyes that was the greatest comfort. Logic took a back seat to emotion, I guess, even then. Some things don't change.
With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, fears of nuclear holocaust don't haunt me in quite the same way they used to. Now, though, a new set of fears has been unwrapped and left on my doorstep. And, for the first time I have to try to protect my own children from the burden of living in fear.
Perhaps it is our reaction to fear that will measure us. There's an old saying that goes something like this: "Without fear, there is no courage." Well, I can tell you we have a renewed patriotic courage in the U.S. - a courage and unity I haven't felt since the wave of grief that swept over America and the world in November of 1963.
Apparently, we've found evidence that points to Osama bin Laden as one of the key architects of the attacks on New York and Washington, DC. If we can bring this man to justice, perhaps we will be able to regain some tiny iota of our lost security. However, the 19 direct perpetrators are beyond any human sanctions now, and that is a consummate frustration.
I sincerely hope our allied response to these attacks will be effective in preventing them in the future. If the fanatics who planned these attacks intended to strike fear into our hearts, to some extent they have succeeded. My son's fear is evidence of that. However, our fears are aroused at a terrible price. Prepare to pay.
Blair Wyman is a software engineer working for IBM in Rochester, Minnesota, home of the IBM iSeries.