On September 11, 2001 I was teaching my first class ever in Finland at a university when the planes hit the World Trade Center. During the ensuing months I gained much comfort and information on the state of America from the columns of Peggy Noonan.
When I learned she was speaking on the campus of my current university, I knew I had to go hear her. I was so ambitious to go that I went two weeks ago on a snowy night. I had the wrong date and the place was empty,
Not so the other night. The place was crawling with at least 500 people, if not more. The event was sponsored by the university’s Corp of Cadets, so there were a lot of uniformed men and women floating around.
According to the bio in the flyer I got at the door, Peggy Noonan is the author of several books in addition to being a columnist. She was a speech writer for President Reagan and the first President Bush. I knew the latter part of her work history, but I didn’t know she also has been nominated for Emmys for episodes of the TV show “West Wing” and a post-911 television special.
It is the 911 event which drew me to the program. I was praying for the opportunity to ask her about the country since then and I got my chance. I stood in line at the microphone, waited for a cadet to finish his question, and then asked mine.
I told her that I had been overseas during 911 and that her columns had moved me and kept me in touch with American culture. When I told her that, she thanked me and told me that she believed there are times in life when you know what you are made for, and the 911 period was one of them. She felt that the year or so after the event was a key time in her life. Ms. Noonan said she had a broken heart.
I asked her what the long term effects of 911 were. She didn’t have much of a novel answer, citing the difficulty of travel, for example. So I followed up and told her that at first the country seemed so together immediately after 911, and then it became divided. I asked Ms. Noonan what had happened.
Her answer was quite insightful. Her insight into American culture is one reason I read her. The other reason is that she is a good writer.
The answer: In what she calls the “Os”, 2001-2004, we were united. However, after that “doubt creeped in”. My interpretation of that statement is that she believes Americans lost trust in their leaders.
This fit perfectly with one of the themes of Ms. Noonan’s speech, which was that Americans are currently “agitated”, at least at a low level. We are too “revved up”, she said.
Ms. Noonan cited the Internet as one of the reasons for this. She herself examines current events a couple hours every day before going out in public. She then goes out to meet people, which she finds refreshing. Ms. Noonan said she thinks it would be healthier if we unplugged more because the Internet can make you “barking crazy”.
Her advice to us was not to forget our missions in the days ahead. One of the problems today, she said, is that people in education, Hollywood and the church, for example, have forgotten that their primary purposes. They are doing other things besides educating, entertaining, and leading people to faith.
Ms. Noonan told her audience to find a mission, make sure it is morally and ethically good, and stick to it. This is what I believe she did after 911, and I appreciate her for that.