A year and a day ago, it might have been hard for many Americans to understand President Franklin D. Roosevelt's expression of concern in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
"Overconfidence and complacency are among our deadliest of all enemies," he said.
Up until the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, we might have read or recalled that comment and wondered how in the wake of the devastating attack, the destruction of the core of our Pacific fleet and the loss of more than 2,000 lives, any American could have been overconfident or complacent.
In fact, Roosevelt was remarkably prescient then and his words and concerns were appropriate to our national circumstances one year ago. They remain so today.
Individuals may wonder what they can do, what difference they can make. Good questions. Charting our course remains the responsibility of the White House, the president's cabinet and advisors, Congress, the leaders of the U.S. military and the directors of our security agencies.
Our duties as citizens include keeping track of the high-level decisions, making informed judgments and voicing our support or dissent. Heartfelt demonstrations of patriotism provide comfort and encouragement to those in the trenches, especially our military troops, but also to regular folks who have accepted thankless chores such as inspecting passengers and baggage in our airports. They're just doing their jobs. It wouldn't be a bad idea to say "thanks."
But if we know and say the federal government does not always get it right during "normal" times, we should not assume that omniscience operates at those higher levels during these more challenging times. Patriotism is neither blind faith nor obsequious deference to authority.
Ours is a participatory democracy. Trying times invite more participation - at a minimum, voting.
Last Sept. 11 is considered to have been the day everything changed. The federal government may be operating differently today from the way it did a year and a day ago, but change is about individuals, too.
The sudden loss of 3,000 innocent lives last Sept. 11 prompted reflection among many of the millions who survived. Something akin to New Year's resolutions were pledged in mid-September. Time and human nature take a toll on our best intentions. This first anniversary offers another chance for renewal.
In whatever ways each of us can be a better family member, friend and colleague, we should try. We will fall short, but we can rebound quickly by allowing - willing - ourselves to be more patient, kind, forgiving, generous, friendly and loving.
For 3,000 Americans, life ended unexpectedly last Sept. 11. How much would have they and their loved ones have given for one more hug or one more opportunity to say "I love you"?
None of us is promised tomorrow. The first anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, can be our reminder to live today in such a way that our sudden passing - or that of a loved one - brings more peace than regret.
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