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A year later, some Americans still picking up the pieces, some have moved
By Jerry Schwartz, Associated Press
At that moment, it seemed as if nothing would ever be the same, that we had all been changed in some essential way.
How could anyone live a normal life in the shadows of thousands of innocents, slaughtered in minutes ... of one colossus obliterated, and then another ... of suicidal hijackers and the specter of more terrorism, suddenly all too real and close by?
But here we are, a year later.
Millions of red-white-and-blue ribbons have come and gone from lapels. People sometimes talk about Sept. 11, but more often the conversation is about Ozzy Osbourne's family, the stock market doldrums, the summer of child abductions.
What has changed in us is deep but subtle.
"People are looking inward more," observes Wistar Kane, a 54-year-old unemployed accountant in Chadds Ford, Pa. "We've had a very basic change in our way of life."
There are many for whom the sun's rays are still dimmed by tears. There are some whose lives have been reordered spectacularly -- they've made career moves or solemnized marriages because of a sudden realization that life is short.
But if America has changed -- and it has -- most of the changes have been less dramatic. We have adjusted to the horrors of a year ago in ways we may not even notice.
Cynthia Lurie says her life is no different now. But probe a little deeper and she admits, yes, she arrives at airports hours earlier; yes, she jumps at loud noises. She pays more attention to news events, keeps up with terror alerts.
"I guess there have been changes, quite a few changes. I try not to dwell on it. But it's always there, isn't it?" says Lurie, 54, of Newport Beach, Calif.
She chatted as she submitted to security screening at John Wayne Airport -- perhaps the most obvious difference in our lives since Sept. 11.
Frequent fliers now go to the gate prepared to open their suitcases and shuck their shoes, and most do it without complaint, though some have rejected flying entirely; airlines have reported that traffic dropped 6 percent to 10 percent in July from July 2001.
Some of that can be blamed on a sick economy, but not all. A poll conducted for the AP by ICR/International Communications Research of Media, Pa., found that when asked about several worries including flying and terrorist attacks close to home, 29 percent of Americans were most concerned about flying in commercial airliners.
Second, with 14 percent, was attending a public event with a big crowd.
So at games, theme parks and other public gathering places, backpacks, bags and purses are checked for weapons. "I have no problem letting them look," said Heidi Wolfrum, 40, of Kingston, Mass., as she entered Disney's California Adventure. "That's life now."
At many office buildings, guards check employee IDs while others with mirrors examine undercarriages of trucks making deliveries.
To judge from surveys, all of these security measures have not made Americans feel secure; the AP poll of 1,001 adults in early August found that 63 percent believed another terrorist strike in the United States was at least somewhat likely.
But the percentage who said such an attack was "very likely" has dropped from 53 percent in October -- at the height of the anthrax scare -- to 23 percent. And the level of fear has clearly dropped from those early days, when America seemed to be under siege by the unknown.
In those early days, the police suddenly had to reinvent themselves to deal with domestic terrorism. They were assisted by the USA Patriot Act, proposed by President Bush on Sept. 19 and signed on Oct. 26. To fight terrorism, law enforcement agencies were granted broad new powers.
They were allowed to detain aliens who were deemed threats to national security, and hold them without any public acknowledgment (more than a thousand were arrested). Libraries and bookstores were required to provide the FBI with records of their patrons' reading habits. Universities were forced to hand over records of students from some countries.
The AP poll found that 63 percent of the respondents were either somewhat or very concerned that the measures enacted to fight terrorism "could end up restricting our individual freedoms."
Imad Hamad, head of Detroit's American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, complains that his people are too often singled out. They are detained by law enforcement agents, profiled by airlines, often studied suspiciously by their fellow Americans.
And yet, Hamad says he has reason to be happy.
Younger members of his community, especially those born in this country, have been politicized by the difficulties they have faced, he says. And the hate crimes and threats that made many Arabs prisoners of their own homes last September have abated.
More than a half-million immigrants applied for citizenship between Oct. 1, 2001, and May 31 -- 65 percent more than in the same period a year before. Some of them almost certainly wanted to avoid post-Sept. 11 immigration hassles, but many "wanted to show their pride in this country after Sept. 11," says Luis Gutierrez, executive director of Latinos Progresando in Chicago.
At the Flag Co. in Acworth, Ga., sales of 12- by 18-inch American flags have increased by more than a million in the past year. Toland Enterprises in Mandeville, La., has added the Stars and Stripes to other seasonal banners, putting an American flag, for example, in the yellow-mittened hands of a snowman.
Officials estimate that this year, 3.6 million people will visit the place where the World Trade Center once stood. In shorts and T-shirts, kids in tow, they stop and stare at what is now just an immense hole in the ground.
They want to see history, they say. They want to pay their respects.
For those who cannot make the trip, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's police department has put together a traveling exhibit of artifacts. Among them: pieces of fuselage from the two planes that hit the trade center; mangled office equipment; twisted street signs.
At the North Way Christian Community Church near Pittsburgh, 8,700 visitors waited as long as four hours to see the exhibit.
The AP poll found that 50 percent believe the United States has changed for the better by the attacks of Sept. 11; only 15 percent say it has changed for the worse.
"I think our country needed sort of a wake-up call to have pride in our country and care for one another," says Tanya Cooksey, 37, a doctor's office worker from Broken Arrow, Okla.
"You'd never expect mass destruction of that nature bringing anyone together," says Mark Burby, 30, a Caribou, Maine, potato worker.
But it did, agrees Holly Zakharenko, 27, a Fort Lee, N.J., homemaker.
"This is something that hit everybody," she says, "even if they didn't lose anybody, or lose a job -- it hit everybody and they all hit back. It elates you a little bit."
Perhaps it's because the dire events of that day rekindled a spirit most Americans had relegated to a Norman Rockwell past -- a spirit many thought had been lost for good.
Sept. 11, wrote the editors of the Chillicothe, Ohio, Star in an Aug. 7
editorial, was "the day that America discovered itself -- how strong and
united a great people can be when confronted with great evil, and put to
the ultimate test of survival."
A few of the ways in which life in these United States has changed since Sept. 11:
Longer lines at some airports, thanks to tightened security. Random searches of passengers. No knife-like objects allowed on planes.
Ratings for cable news stations and evening news programs higher than they were.
Immigrants detained and sometimes deported through secret proceedings.
Libraries and bookstores must provide law enforcement officials with records regarding patrons' reading habits.
More security at some office buildings; backpacks and other bags checked at sporting events and theme parks.
Universities required to give law enforcement agents names, addresses, grades and disciplinary records of students from some countries.
Police officers and firefighters popular action figures and Halloween costumes.