A year stabbed in the heart

Outside editorial

Posted: Monday, December 31, 2001

This editorial appeared in today's Los Angeles Times:

2001 was one bewildering blur, except that it took forever to finish. It started with a presidential inauguration, which followed an election decided by the Supreme Court and which seems about two years ago. Last summer we obsessed about the usual - shark attacks, Britney Spears' navel and a voluble California congressman turning taciturn when a "very close" female intern very mysteriously disappeared. Then during the final 16 weeks we're all hurtling up, down and upside-down on a roller-coaster ride through international terrorism, mass murder, deadly disease spores, an economic recession and a weird war with night-vision goggles and laser-guided bombs against medieval religious fundamentalists riding donkeys to possible obliteration in caves stocked with sophisticated arms.

If only human minds had Pentium processors we could grasp the countless images and info bits furiously flying by, turning many givens into dark doubts.

Some things were familiar - the Mideast, sadly, on another spiral of deadly violence; for Ireland, however, there were halting new steps toward lasting peace. We lost some favorite people: Jack Lemmon, Isaac Stern, Anthony Quinn, Imogene Coca, Mike Mansfield, Perry Como and Dale Earnhardt. But the last 3 1/2 months felt as if we'd all just moved into a disturbing new house where everything familiar - the light switches, stairs, chairs, doors and tables - had been shifted to unfamiliar places. And some were broken.

It has been hard over time for Americans to retain hate, so it's hard for them to grasp how much they are hated by some. Or why. But there, suddenly, on a sunny September morning was irrefutable proof: four huge hijacked airliners flying into major buildings on TV, or into the ground. In an instant, tall office buildings and shiny airliners were no longer safe. By the thousands, innocent loved ones who routinely went off to work did not come home. Rescuers who dutifully rushed to save them died by the hundreds. Then the mail started to deliver an invisible disease that sometimes killed. What other evil, invisible conspiracy might lurk in some minds among us?

Most of us retreated to the familiar: home, family, TV. Predictably - if we think about it - millions of Americans opened their hearts and wallets, donating to stricken strangers, including children in the country we had bombed further back into a stone-strewn age.

But so many other things seemed upside down this year. Russia actually co-chaired a NATO meeting. A Republican president unilaterally announced a two-thirds reduction of nuclear warheads. Federal interest rates were lowered 11 times, making borrowing almost free for banks, and the economy stayed stalled. And, ailing like the economy, the American pastime of baseball considered reducing teams.

Today, prospects for quickly restoring a rational pattern to life don't seem that promising, even on the lighter end of life. The entire world will view the Olympics live from Utah soon, but residents of the adjacent Pacific time zone must wait hours to see the games on tape. And Southern California will host the 88th Rose Bowl, a classic pageant and football game that pits Nebraska against a team from Miami. Say what?

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