Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat."
— F. Scott Fitzgerald
PORT HURON, Mich. — From my second-floor office window, I can see the American flag at half-staff in the parking lot of the local Red Cross Chapter. It's a busy place over there these days.
It was the flag that finally brought it home to me. American flags large and small have been lowered to honor the dead. Very few gestures are loaded with such a heavy message.
Flags are often like trees — you don't notice them during your everyday business. But when those flags are lowered, one realizes they're everywhere. The post office. Wal-Mart. The gas station. Schools.
Thursday was a time for introspection for me. After two whirlwind days on the City Desk, bombarded with a barrage of Associated Press and Reuters news alerts and a steady steam of network news, I broke away to really think about what happened Tuesday.
From within the sheltered pandemonium of the newsroom, I had no idea how my neighbors in southeastern Michigan were taking the national catastrophe.
I had no idea how I was taking it, either. My job requires a certain level of numbing. The deluge of pain and suffering on the wire and television requires one to muster an icy command of emotions. It's never easy. The public reacts with revulsion to the words and pictures we print, often lashing out against the messenger. Still, they demand more. The desire to know what's happening to their fellow Americans, to their country, to themselves creates a ceaseless demand for news.
The news that the Cleveland Browns and the rest of the NFL were going on hiatus this weekend was just another bit of information in my overloaded mind. I heard the report of the league's decision before leaving for work Thursday afternoon.
It was on the drive into town that the sea of mournful but proud flags jolted me: My country was hurting. My country was at war with a vulgar, faceless enemy. The sight of all those lowered symbols released a flood of memories, thoughts of trying times for the nation in years past.
I recalled watching a black and white RCA Victorola television as the American hostages got off a plane after 444 days in Iran. Other memories came back: Lennon's murder, Reagan's shooting, the Beirut Marine barracks attack, all sorts of hijackings and bombings.
The memory of reciprocity came back, too. I could see in my mind the American jets screaming over the Gulf of Sidra as they struck targets in Libya … the massive 16-inch guns of the USS New Jersey belching death into Lebanon … Abrams tanks thundering like triumphant iron knights through the Iraqi desert.
On my lunch break, I went home to see if I could unearth some historical momentos.
After 20 minutes of rummaging through a closet, I pulled out a family heirloom. It's the sports section of the Cleveland Plain Dealer from Nov. 25, 1963. The edition is notable because it was two days after President Kennedy's assassination in Dallas.
The National Football League made a decision to play its seven games that weekend, a choice that drew heavy criticism. Still, 334,892 people attended the games, including the 55,096 who watched the Cleveland Browns beat the Dallas Cowboys 27-17 at Municipal Stadium.
NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle spent the rest of his life regretting the decision to play those games. Paul Tagliabue made the right choice 38 years later.
Today, we have a national tragedy of a different sort on our hands. The magnitude is larger than the death of a president because of target of assassins wasn't a single man, it was all of us, our way of life, our morals, values and freedoms. A band of desperate, grasping little men from the worst place in the world hurt us.
Part of me longs for an escape, and nothing would please me more than to watch the Browns and Steelers tangle Sunday night. But I can live without pro football for a weekend. After all, there are many that will never see a game again, and others will never get the chance to plop down on the couch with Mom or Dad and see a game.
And for that reason, I am angry. There's a lust for revenge building within me. Every time I see another body being hauled away, another weeping parent of child, another cheering Middle Easterner, I long for retribution.
If there is any justice in the world, then calls have gone out from the White House to its version of 911: Fort Campbell, Ky., home of the U.S. Army's 5th Special Forces Group, and Fort Benning, Ga., home of the 75th Ranger Regiment. In the coming days, our fighting men will be asked to do their duty and the Rangers and Green Berets will add to their glory while soothing our pain.
We've been hurt before. The White House was once burned. Our fleet in Hawaii was nearly wiped out once. Yet every time, we're rebounded for an overwhelming victory.
What these small people lose sight of is that America is the ultimate football team. When it comes to crunch time, we rally. No one runs the two-minute drill better than us.
To whomever was foolish enough to attack this nation, take heed: you've sacked world's quarterback, but he's up and dusting himself off.
Get ready for the bomb.