The original Rip Van Winkle went hunting one day in the Catskill Mountains of New York, and there he fell asleep for twenty years. Can you imagine the changes that old Rip discovered when he finally awoke after two decades of dozing? We, in America, have been abruptly awoken from our dual dreams of prosperity and peace.

The prosperity phase of our slumbers began in the early '90s. During this sleep, personal fortunes were made, federal, state, and local governments amassed surpluses, and the future glittered in multiple hues of gold. We thought that the days of economic uncertainty, recessions, and depressions were gone for good. We had finally learned how to manage the economy once and for all times, and our economic futures and fortunes were calculated in double-digits-until we recently awoke to reality.

The peace phase of our slumbers started a couple years before the economic nodding off. Our initial dozing began with the fall of the Berlin Wall. We slept well for well over a decade stirring only momentarily for scattered attacks against embassies, ships, buildings, and people. The evil empire, the USSR, had been brought to its knees, and we basked in the dream of long-term peace and tranquility-until 8:48am, September 11, 2001. On that dark day, we awoke to a nightmare and the reality of four planes crashing and killing. What must we learn as the Rip Van Winkle's of the 21st century?

  • There is much to be learned as Americans. For example, our federal government has learned that something definitive must be done now to stop worldwide terrorism. Unless we win this war, we will allow ourselves to become victims in the future.
  • Our government needs also to wage a war against the causes of terrorism. These recent acts weren't mindless acts-they were a well planned part of a comprehensive war strategy. We must look at the reasons behind this attack. There are many reasons for the recent tragic events, but two surface immediately: our foreign policy especially in the Middle East and the widespread poverty both there and in South Asia. Having recently returned from the Indian Subcontinent, I saw firsthand the vast extent of abject poverty that affects many millions.

In addition understanding the issue nationally, we need to enumerate and process our personal learnings while Washington works on the war effort.

  • We need to realize that life isn't linear. The stock market and our economy don't merely continue to move ahead with double-digit certainty. It takes unexpected curves and detours. It sometimes repeats itself, and other times moves in totally different directions. We need to factor that fact into our view of reality or else we will be caught be surprise...still again.
  • We aren't given a guarantee at birth to live three score and ten years. Only a handful of people knew on September 11, 2001 that that day would be their last. The others, the innocent victims, all figured that they had time to do what they had put off. Tragically, they were wrong. Not one of them can now hug their kids, spouse, or friends having postponed it because of all the pressures of life. Nor can any of them enjoy the changing colors of the trees or listen to the laughter of children at play. We, the survivors of this attack, need to learn that life is fleeting-all too fleeting sometimes. Enjoy life now.
  • We need also to learn to live without our future filled with paranoia. We can be vigilant about life, but we must avoid becoming paralyzed by paranoia. If we give into the terror, then we too become living victims of that attack. Be watchful, but don't become obsessed with fear.
  • We can also take a personal inventory of the way that we live our lives. It is horrific that so many died that day. However, many Americans are waging terrorism against themselves by smoking. Over 430,000 Americans die each year directly related to their choice to smoke. We freely accept the deaths of 1200 each day from smoking without mobilizing against that death toll.
  • The second major cause of death in America is the result of poor diet and the lack of daily exercise. This death rate isn't much behind that of smoking when it comes to the numbers of Americans dying daily. While we cannot do much as individuals to prevent a foreign terrorist striking at us, we do have control over our lives if we choose to exercise it.

We need to wake up to life and rub the sleep from our collective eyes and go about living life to the fullest. Go boldly into the future and enjoy the gift of life.

This article appeared in the Dixon Telegraph on 1/25/02