The New World

The world did seem to change on September 11. America’s prosperity, its geographic isolation, and its persistent optimism led us to believe we were immune to the violence of the world. We are past that now.

Many of the cars I pass on my way to and from work each day are festooned with flags, an understandable reaction to an attack on one’s homeland. A few, however, have pasted a different image in their windows – a flyer bearing the face of a missing loved one. Nothing can compare to the loss they have suffered, and our hearts and prayers go out to every family touched directly by this tragedy.

NHI’s own family, I am grateful to report, is safe, if shaken. Mary Jo Mullan, one of the guest editors of this edition of Shelterforce, has spent little of the last few weeks at the Wall St. offices of the F.B. Heron Foundation, where she is a vice president. But she’s found time amid the chaos to help us finish this issue.

For the rest of us, as for most Americans, the impact has been more subtle, but no less real. Even if you worked far from the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, getting back to business after the initial shock wore off was not easy. We are all worried about the state of the world in which we now live, and though our conversations may return to the normal subjects of everyday life, the tell-tale furrow of our brows gives away the concern that still plagues us. It will not go away, and it challenges us to reconnect to the purpose that drove our lives before tragedy struck. I would join with Mary Jo and our other guest editor, Martin Johnson of Isles, Inc., in expressing the hope that Shelterforce can help us keep our eyes on the important goals of nurturing strong families and building strong communities.

As we refocus on the job of building communities, it is essential to remember what has not changed since September 11. We still live in a world where opportunity is not equitably shared, where economic justice is still a dream. The work you do in communities around this country speaks to that reality.

That work may become more difficult, at least in the short run. We live in a harder country today; fear leads us to look at others coldly. Defense spending will undoubtedly grow, leaving fewer resources for everything else. Beyond budget arithmetic, the mood for other priorities has suffered. Indeed, to listen to the political chatter, there are no other priorities. Who can think about the plight of the less fortunate when we all live in the line of fire?

This too shall pass, however. As the limitations of both military and covert responses to terrorism become ever more apparent, it is my fervent hope that Americans will begin to look for broader answers. Perhaps we will come to realize that the anger which appears so pervasive in other parts of the world is not rooted solely, or even largely, in religious fanaticism and geopolitical grievances, but in economic frustration. Ameliorating that frustration will not end terrorism, of course, but it will alter the climate in which that terrorism takes root. In short, part of our response to the attack of September 11 should be to change the face that America shows to the world, to become a beacon of hope for people everywhere and a tireless supporter of broader prosperity.

If America is to become a more generous country, that generosity must begin at home, and it can build on the work you are doing every day in communities across the nation. Each step you help us take toward a more caring society and a more equitable distribution of resources is a statement about the power of a fairer and more hopeful world. No, the children who just moved into that new home you built wouldn’t have turned into terrorists if you’d left them in some squalid tenement. But you have set an example for the nation, an example repeated day after day in every part of the country. That example says we can make lives better, and if we can do it here we can do it abroad as well, and if we do it enough we enrich and protect ourselves as well as those we help.

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