Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Memorial, An Election, And Wild Mood Swings

Today is September 11th. I still remember this day in 2001. I was in a meeting. Someone came in and said 'Put on CNN, someone blew up the World Trade Center'. And so we watched, in horrified mesmerization, as the second plane hit the trade center, and the towers fell. And saw the flames shooting out of the Pentagon. And watched those who jumped a hundred stories to certain death, rather than submit themselves to the flames.

I worked on a military base at the time, so we went home shortly thereafter. I went and sat on the beach and cried.

Unlike some of my coworkers, I didn't know anyone who worked in the World Trade Center. But that day, we were all one nation, in our grief and horror.

It may have been the last time we came together like that. Since then, it's all about red vs. blue. Conservative vs. liberal. Rich vs. poor. Hater vs. hatee. Or so it seems sometimes. Things aren't going so hot in the American economy. The market has worse mood swings than a teenager. We don't trust companies to do the right thing, and we don't trust our government - they can't even figure out that torturing people is...well, torture.

And I'm just hoping at no point do I have to face the idea of President Palin - I may have to move to Canada if that comes to pass. I'd love to see a woman in the White House, but not that woman.

But there is hope, both for the future and for our wallets. The market will stabilize, if for no other reason than people are so tired of trying to predict where things are going that they will take up Bocce instead of market-watching. The impact to our collective wallets is putting us at home more, which is never a bad thing. Hey, if one more family sits down to dinner together, I'm all for it.

But it's painful, both to experience, and to watch. I took a look at my 401k balance the other day and wished immediately that I had forgotten it existed, and that the selective amnesia would stay in place until at least 2012, when the world is supposed to end anyway. I'd rather it didn't, but at least I wouldn't have to worry about my 401k balance.

I am torn between sympathy for the homeowners who struggle, and a reluctance to support bad decisions. Between knowing the markets need to be shored up, and thinking that letting them fall might be just punishment for those who took unneccesary risks with other people's money. Between hating how we've offered up a bail-out-o-rama for big companies who do stupid things, and not wanting the employees and their kids to end up on a bread line.

There's no simple solutions . All I can do today mourn what is lost, hope for what might be, and live in the moment.

9/11 was a horrible day. But one good thing came out of it - we were all Americans first, and other things second. That's not to say we have to agree on things. We can even think each other has profoundly bad, or off the wall ideas. But we do have to live together, and maybe it's time we found a common bond again.

I heard said once that the saddest thing that happened to the US as a culture after 9/11 is we lost our hope. That it was the thing that was most appealing about us to our allies - our bright vision of the future, and the knowledge that things would get better. I say it's time to recapture that - that the legacy of 9/11 is not one of pain and fear, but of the determination that things will get better. The market will take some mood stabilizers, the government will stop trying to rule by fear, and companies will stop padding the golden parachutes of their CEOs and remember to hand out the occasional raise.

I think those that died 7 years ago today might agree with that.

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