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Which Hat?

by Ferida Wolff

My hat was ready for Funny Hat Day, a celebration of silly at my father's assisted living place the next day. It was a straw hat with a wide brim to which I had attached such a big bow it dwarfed the hat itself. Around the striped crown, I had woven a wreath of periwinkle vines. To complete the picture, I was going to wear a long, flowing gauzy dress and strappy sandals. When I tried on the whole outfit, I looked like something out of a Tiffany poster, with an Alice in Wonderland edge: innocence crossed with madness.

But that was on Monday. I never got to wear my hat because on Tuesday, a chunk of New York City disappeared. On Tuesday, a side of the Pentagon was wrenched open. On Tuesday, the people on four airplanes, in two 110 storied towers, in the offices that symbolized our country's power died. And so did our country's innocence. Only the madness remained.

We have always been somewhat innocent. I grew up in the fifties when we were both enthralled with and terrified of nuclear power. It was called the safe giant. My elementary school went on a field trip to a nuclear power plant to see how the cheap, efficient, safe energy of the future was produced. At the same time, back at school, we were having drills should there be a nuclear attack. We were instructed to scramble under our desks and cover our heads. It took us years to understand that the attack we were protecting ourselves from was a different kind of conflict. The old ways would not be effective any more. We needed to rethink the threat and the response.

Today we are in the same position. One newscaster said that we have been worrying about missiles when all it took to terrorize a country was an airline ticket. A Star Wars shield would not have prevented the attack.

I have heard people say that we are vulnerable because of our freedoms and perhaps it is time to give up some of that freedom to live more safely. Restrictions would not have stopped the terrorists. Fanatics are used to restrictions and know how to work around them.

Others want to close our borders. But Timothy McVeigh was already here. Isolationism would not deter determination from inside or outside.

Hiding under our desks will not protect us. The world is different now, closer, and our responses need to reflect that.

For a free country, nuclear shields and severe restrictions and isolationism would be funny hats for America to wear. We are a nation that prides itself on our generosity of spirit. We help countries devastated by earthquakes. We rush to aid starving children. Our people build houses, cook dinners, offer free medical treatment, adopt homeless orphans, send clothing, promote literacy, give blood, and donate millions of dollars to charity. We are a nation with an open heart.

Let us look into that heart and find ways to keep us safe without destroying our spirit. We are a nation of creative thinkers. Let's use our creativity to come up with answers for the issues of today.

We are a strong nation. We have endured civil war and world wars. We have rebuilt cities flattened by earthquakes, blown away in the wind and drowned by floods. We are survivors. We need our strength now, not only to rebuild our structures but also to reconstruct our lives. Yes, we are angry. Yes, we are grieving. But if we allow revenge and not justice to be our foundation, our spirit will crumble like the towers of the World Trade Center. They relied on the weight being born on the outer part of the building; the center had no support.

This is not the time for a Mad Hatter's solution. Whatever we decide to do, we will still be part of the world. What kind of world will we help it to be?

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