A couple of Sundays ago, I awoke to a sense of lightheartedness that is infrequent. This feeling could be attributed to a single source, synonymous with the scourge of college seniors across the country: The LSAT was over. No more practice tests, logic games or inane passages about the homing ability of pigeons (which, by the way, is thought to be related to their olfactory senses, though the causality of this has yet to be proven).

All I had left was to wait three weeks until I could call and receive my score, the most important three-digit number of my 21 years, the one that seemingly will direct the course of my life for the next three years and beyond. The enormity of all that was riding on that one test momentarily dampened my euphoria. It was Sunday, Oct. 7, 2001.

Then I turned on the television and heard President Bush telling the nation that the military strikes against Afghanistan had begun. We were officially at war.

Talk about a reality check. The day I was celebrating my supposed freedom was the same day we as a nation awoke to find ourselves involved in a “sustained campaign” against terrorism. Call it coincidental, call it a bizarrely orchestrated slap in the face – either way, it was definitely one of those rare moments that totally snapped me out of a microcosmic mindset and checked my priorities. “It’s just a number,” the mantra I had heard so often prior to test day, actually had credibility for the first time in my own mind.

In the weeks immediately following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, much of the normalcy in daily life was suspended. I had just started to ease back into the routines and rhythms of life, and that included becoming more absorbed in the deadlines, numbers and statistics that used to seem so important. Maybe it was just a distraction; maybe the only way to try and get back to normal is to focus on the minutiae? The thing is, it really is just a number. Compared to the destruction, loss and tension surrounding us on a daily basis, it really does seem almost ludicrously insignificant. And maybe that is how it should be?

Freedom. The word itself takes on so many different levels of meaning. Perhaps before this fall, I could use that word to effectively describe the relief I felt that morning. Yet now, to use the word in such a context seems trite and inappropriate. Semantics have undoubtedly altered since Sept. 11. Freedom now takes on intonations and expressions that it never did in our country – freedom to not worry when letters without postmarks arrive, freedom to board a plane without wondering “what if?” and freedom to take public transit without hesitation. Freedom from looming deadlines and the pressure of one standardized test? In comparison, those are more like luxuries.

The past few weeks have ushered in heightened levels of patriotism and political correctness I have not seen before. Just as the semantics by which we classify and categorize words have shifted, so too have the boundaries of what (and whom) is considered “American.” When sponsors pulled away from “Politically Incorrect” because of Bill Maher’s alleged un-American statements that the military was cowardly or when Ann Coulter was dismissed from The National Review for her hateful sentiments, a new definition of what is considered politically correct and American was taking form.

Shortly after the terrorist attacks occurred, we discussed World War II and the internment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps in my English class. Specifically, we were discussing the correlation such events of the past have with current problems. As a Caucasian female, I would not have had to “prove” I was as American as the person next door back then, nor would I have to now. I have always taken it for granted that I can walk down the street with my loyalties unquestioned. Yet now, cases where storeowners of Arab descent are harassed or anxious passengers have refused to fly with men who looked “Middle Eastern” raise troubling questions. Being “American” entails a lot more than it did even two months ago.

Perhaps because so many of us always had the luxury to reap the benefits of being Americans without question or comment, we are all that much more vulnerable. In the end, isn’t that just what so many innocent people on those planes and in those buildings were doing Sept. 11 – working, traveling, living another ordinary day as Americans? Their freedom was, in essence, what was turned against them, it became their calling card.

There is a lot less than can be taken for granted these days. And in the grand scheme, numbers really aren’t important, though it would be easier to return to a time when it was more possible to believe they are.

The Flip Side appears every other Tuesday in The Hoya. The author can be reached at mingothehoya.com.

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