Though Hoyas have largely returned to their daily routines, New York City remains a different world – quiet, idle and eerie.

Home for the Columbus Day weekend, I made my pilgrimage to Ground Zero, the approximately 12- square block area which was once the site composing the seven buildings of the World Trade Center. Though the military prevents non-essential personnel from getting closer than a few blocks from the site, the destruction remains quite visible from afar.

Around me, a river of humanity crept forward as individuals moved on and then stopped – another moment to stare at the rubble. Couples held hands. Parents hugged their young children. Teary-eyed men and women, some of whom undoubtedly lost friends or relatives in the attacks, sadly gazed ahead. Others quietly focused their cameras, trying to forever capture the scene. And countless times, you could hear people admitting they could not believe what was before their eyes.

Normally bustling lower Manhattan now lies in a coma. Many businesses remain closed, windows remain dirty with gray dust despite severe rains, and only essential traffic uses the streets. Quiet rules the day, as the whirr of truck engines and rhythmic beeping sounds have replaced taxi horns, shouting delivery men and coworkers sharing a laugh.

New York has not returned to normal, nor will it anytime soon. But do we really want to return to normal? If normal were living without fear of terrorism and never losing innocent lives to fanatical, evil men, the answer would be obvious. But it is not so simple.

Before Sept. 11, we lived in a state of unreality. We occupied ourselves with grades, the latest thing we had to buy, our social lives, and how long it might take for the Yankees to clinch their division. An imaginary lockbox was the important political issue of the day, and either President Bush or Tom Daschle was the enemy, depending on your leanings.

We had difficulty distinguishing between those proclaiming views different from our own and those that were plainly anti-American. We were proud to be Americans, without really understanding patriotism’s true meaning.

We acknowledged that though evil-doers were out there, nothing would happen to us. We allowed our defenses and intelligence capabilities to wither. We allowed ourselves to travel in an environment encouraging lax security. And at what became the key moment, we fell asleep at the wheel.

We took our liberty, our freedoms and our core values for granted. We forgot that we must sometimes fight to preserve them, for those who hate our freedoms and values will never allow us to be pacifists. And never threatened ourselves, those of us too young to remember Pearl Harbor could only imagine what made the “Greatest Generation” great.

The exceptional sacrifices of that generation allowed us to fall into our state of unreality. They provided their children and grandchildren with the luxury of being able to focus on themselves. Unlike their parents and grandparents, later generations worried about “finding themselves,” forwarding their careers and enjoying newfound luxuries. After all, the free world had been saved, at least for a time.

But in enjoying the fruits provided by a sacrificing generation, we lost our way. Hopefully, the events of Sept. 11 will set us back on course. Though we will undoubtedly continue to worry about trivial matters, we will also need to take up the fight for freedom. This time, we cannot afford to focus solely on ourselves or we will lose all that we consider dear.

Our generation’s challenge probably will not require that most of us take up arms, as in the case of the “Greatest Generation.” But our call might even be more difficult, because it requires strength of will, rather than force.

Confronted with evil, we must not waver. We must believe in ourselves. We must confidently proclaim faith in our system before the world. In the face of those who say we stand for racism, jingoism, gender discrimination or the evils of capitalism, we must simply argue that we are right, and that they are wrong. Like all nations, we have made mistakes. But our core values have also led to the greatest freedom and prosperity the world has ever seen. Of that, we should not be ashamed. In the coming months, we will slowly return to a “new” normal, one in which we enjoy our freedoms, but constantly work to preserve them. At least now we will be living in the real world.

Crossing the Line appears every other Friday in The Hoya.

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