Two years later, the shock has worn away. People no longer feel the need to cast suspicious glances as they walk the streets. They fly without much fear, except for the fear they will be plucked from the line at random and forced to submit to a more thorough search.
And the newfound desire to attend church, be nicer to other people and create movies and television shows that are less coarse and demeaning? These were things we heard a lot about two years ago. They seem to have faded, as well. The rhythm of life, which was shocked into an irregular bongo chorus on Sept. 11, 2001, has settled down again to its normal cadence.
But the nation can never afford to forget, nor to let down its guard. If Americans have learned anything about al-Qaida, it is that the organization has tremendous patience. It can sit still for years, hatching elaborate plans that require training, choreography and timing. Sleeper cells may exist in this country right now, waiting only for the orders to come to life as they did two years ago. The enemy has not gone away. Anyone fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan can attest to that.
Time provides one advantage. It allows a chance for emotions to subside enough for more clear-eyed reflection. And so, people are rightly beginning to question why Congress quickly passed the Patriot Act two years ago, allowing authorities to set aside some constitutional rights in the name of national security. And people are reading with concern as audits and studies are published showing how authorities mistreated people of Middle Eastern origin in the months after the attacks, locking them up for little reason and denying them the opportunity to be heard.
Two years later, many are understanding that it is wrong to over-react in the face of unthinkable terror and that constitutional rights — the very framework terrorists despise about this nation — are of little value if people perceive that freedom is not to be trusted.
But time has its disadvantages, as well. One is that it tends to weaken resolve. People balk at the huge expenditures necessary for fighting two wars, and they lament added security measures at airports and at national landmarks. Osama bin Laden remains on the loose, but few people give him much thought as they go about their daily business.
That's why anniversaries are so important. Americans must hearken back to the time when they stood in line for hours to donate their own blood — not because anyone in their own communities needed it but because they felt like they had to do something, anything, to help. They must remember the way things that were taken for granted, from the American way of life to life itself, all of a sudden seemed so precious two years ago.
We hope these anniversaries continue through the years and that eventually the memories of what happened become dimmer. That would mean Americans successfully kept future terrorist attacks from happening and that the war was won.
But those days seem far away right now. For now, everybody needs to keep the memories fresh and their guards up.