Dealing with the now, looking to the future

Last night I attended a neighborhood block party in a suburb of Seattle where my Dad lives. I really wasn't in the mood for a party, but I went anyway. My heart felt heavy. My psyche had been saturated by so much TV and radio coverage of the horrors of recent days. So much of adult America has become weary.

I wandered into the cul-de-sac, and made my way toward the gathering of tables and people assembled together and talking. Adjacent to the food and drinks was a giant, red inflatable "room" of sorts, replete with rubber balls and toys. Inside and around this great fun contraption there were many exuberant children. They were running around in a fun-filled frenzy, entering into the room, jumping up and down, diving into the soft, cushioned floor; throwing the plastic and rubber balls around, laughing, giggling, yelling and having fun.

It was somehow fascinating and inspiring to see how oblivious they were to what we grown ups are dealing with right now. Kids grow up too fast these days anyway, so I felt happy that they could be insulated from much of the horrors that has occurred since last Tuesday. All adults have at least a little of that little kid inside of us, and I dare say that passionate college football fans have a lot of little kid inside of us. But there are serious matters to deal with right now, grieving to do, and preparations to consider. As I stood among the adults of the neighborhood, we did talk some politics of course. However the conversation did evolve into some football, and with some Washington State Cougars present along with the majority of Husky fans, there were some good-natured barbs and remembrances tossed about. We socialized and laughed. The breather from reality was very welcome to me.

People at this neighborhood gathering inquired with me about my Dad and Step-Mom. It was just one week ago that I had dropped them off at the airport. Earlier that day the Washington Huskies had pulled out an amazing win over Michigan, and from that point my parents were making their way cross-country to board a cruise boat in Florida. It was a trip that would take them for five days out at sea. The boat was stocked with 1,200 Husky fans, as well as some former players and coaches. They would sail through the Gulf of Mexico, visit Cozumel, and then return back to Florida in time to see the highly anticipated Washington-Miami football game.

One week ago seems like an eternity at this point. As I drove them to the airport back then, our #1 topic of concern was the young Washington offensive line. Little did we know that the country was on the brink. Little did we know that there were terrorists among us biding their time, awaiting the long planned–for moment to strike.

My Dad and Step-Mom were out at sea when news came of the attack on the World Trade Center. Feeling helplessly adrift in the Gulf of Mexico, while watching CNN religiously, they looked on in stunned horror as America burned and people died right before their eyes.

The greatest terror America had seen on our soil since the Civil War.

The cruise continued, made its way to Mexico. On Thursday night my sister called and was frantic. She was saying that she had just heard on TV that 19 people had died from a charter flight carrying Washington fans to some Mayan ruins. We watched and quickly discovered that Dad wasn't on that plane. We felt relief, but also felt so sick and devastated for the families in the Puget Sound area who weren't so lucky. I have heard the expression that God doesn't give us too much to bear, but this seemed to be too much.

My Dad called later. He was obviously shaken and somber, but otherwise all right.

Of course, all the college football games had been canceled for this past weekend. The mood on the boat was a somber one, I was told. Two memorial services held in the span of three days upon that boat. And the America that they would return to will be a much different one.

People are hurting. The TV shows us photos of rescuers digging through vast mountains of debris. Amateur video footage shows us different perspectives of what the tragedy was like, as those twin towers came down. The fires still are burning at the Pentagon. People are absolutely crushed, figuratively and literally. Airline schedules have been crippled. No one saw this coming. No one here can fully understand why it did occur. Symbols of America destroyed. Psyches are scarred forever. We all want revenge.

Where do we go from here?

How we all deal with this crisis, will define our generation. Much like Pearl Harbor, much like JFK's assassination and Vietnam and Watergate. It is heartening to see everyone rally around the President. It is heartening to see him stepping forward and helping to reassure America of her strength, of her ability to heal, of her ability to strike back.

To speak of college football at this point is trivial at best. But by next weekend, enough normalcy will have returned to most of our lives to justify the playing of these games. The players and fans alike will need this as an outlet for in the coming weeks, many troops will be deployed. Many strikes will be carried out. International dramas will unfold before us, as we raptly follow along with CNN. As Americans we will be deeply committed to supporting the Red Cross, supporting each other. Offering donations and devoting time to charitable endeavors. All the while as our troops go off to protect us, and to protect future generations from having to live in fear.

As all of this goes on, we will need those three hours on Saturday afternoon like never before. We will need to escape from the harshness of reality. We will need the excitement of our teams running out of tunnels, of competing on the field. Of exalting in the presence of marching bands and cheerleaders, of quarterback sacks and of running backs breaking into the clear for a touchdown. This most American of all sporting traditions. For the sake of maintaining sanity, and for the sake of enjoying our lives in spite of the fear. Just like those neighborhood children I mentioned, who had danced and frolicked without a care in the world. We will need that for those three hours every Saturday.

Let us rebuild New York, and let us rebuild America. Let us make them even better than before. In time, let us rebuild those World Trade Center Towers. Let us look at ourselves individually and see how we can improve personally as people. Let us look at anything we have been procrastinating and putting off, and let's use this as impetus to get it done. Let us use this tragedy to realize the true ephemeral nature of this existence. Let us use this to help cultivate peace of mind as provided by our faiths.

Let's continue in our American traditions! Let us make this Thanksgiving the most important and heart-felt since 1945. Let us be mindful and loving toward our fellow citizens. If your first inclination upon seeing someone different from you is anger, stop a minute and quietly analyze where that is coming from. We are already showing the world how, in times of danger, Americans sacrifice tremendously to help each other out. At an impromptu gathering yesterday of Indian Sikhs in downtown Seattle, one man held up a sign that said it all… "WE ARE UNITED, GOD BLESS AMERICA."

And let us cheer next Saturday like never before. Let us celebrate this grand tradition of college football that our freedom provides. How incredibly blessed we are to have it!

I will count the hours until my Dad and Step Mom are able to make their way back home. I will continue to pray for my country, and I will remember and honor those that died, simply because they were American.

Derek Johnson can be reached at Top Stories