Tuesday, October 09, 2001

Where is nation's bad self?

Enough already. When will somebody finally say it? Enough with the gloom. And the red, white and blue. Enough with the “one big American family.” Enough with the “nonviolent movies” substituting for the Terminator and Donald Rumsfeld instead of Gary Condit. When will the tabloids take Osama off the cover and put J-Lo and Britney back?

        Up and down the FM dial, Ray Charles is singing “America the Beautiful,” while Celine Dion does “God Bless America” and the national anthem gets star treatment from Whitney and Barbra.

Start the presses

        Newspapers throw out their P&L sheets, publishing costly extras, and television news runs without commercial messages, media working like crazy to deserve the franchise they get from the First Amendment.

        Martin Sheen's West Wing delivers a history lesson, and more than 25 million tune in. And what about the Emmys? When will they roll out the red carpet again, with Joan and Melissa's feline fashion reviews?

        Road rage is down. So is application for divorce. Telemarketers have reported curious instances of polite rejection. And although I shopped last weekend at a very crowded grocery, not once was I rammed in the heels by a shopping cart.

        This can't last. Can it?

Writing on the wall

        The answer is written in the lobby of the Westin Hotel. “The good news is the unexpected rewards life has offered me.” And, “many of my loved ones have died. I live on, grateful to be able to celebrate each day for them.”

        These words are from breast cancer survivors, telling their stories on the Wall of Hope display there. “A serious illness,” writes Betsy Young of Mount Washington, “can empower you to choose what you want to do. Life's priorities become clearer.”

        Zell Schulman of Amberley Village says, “Each day is a gift.”

        An entire nation knows that now.

        None of us who lived through Sept. 11, 2001, will ever be the same again. Most people who have faced a life-threatening illness will tell you that they come out of the experience not only wanting to live — but wanting to live better lives.

        That doesn't mean we will never again scream at referees or buy things we don't need or quarrel about things that don't matter. But not as often.

        It doesn't mean the serial e-mailers will not return to blond jokes instead of ideas about how to kidnap Osama bin Laden, perform a sex change operation and drop “her” back into Afghanistan.

        It doesn't mean we will never again count the number of cup holders in our SUVS. But not with the same concern. It doesn't mean we will never splurge on a shamelessly overpriced handbag. We will continue to golf and play pinochle. Occasionally, we will act as though a baseball game is a life and death matter. But we now know that it is not.

        We are changed. This is not a temporary hair shirt or a black armband we'll slip off in a few weeks. As surely as the quadruple bypass survivor, as permanently as the person who has waged war against cancer, as thoroughly as the person with AIDS, we are shaken. And stirred.

        “I don't take things for granted now,” says Iris Warren of Lincoln Heights about her battle with breast cancer.

        Enough already.

        When will somebody finally say it?

        Maybe never.

        E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/pulfer.

"America Strikes Back" page

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- PULFER: Where is nation's bad self?
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