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Anything but business as usual

The View from Here

Utter helplessness, revulsion and a feeling — a knowing feeling — that nothing will ever be the same again. That’s how we felt at the Mississippi Business Journal last Tuesday.

We huddled in offices and our conference room absorbing the horrifying news: America attacked. The World Trade Center. The Pentagon. Hijacked airliners.

Images flickered across TVs, sirens screamed on radio reports, and Web sites, crawling along as millions of users clicked their way to the latest details, exposed our vulnerability to international terrorism.

We spent the day, and the ensuing days, trying to deal with the reality that it can happen here.

And, of course, we weren’t alone.

We stayed on the phone throughout that awful day last week. Writers talked with business folks from around Mississippi about the events in New York City and Washington and how it was affecting Jackson and the Coast and the Delta and so many points in between. Ad reps, their clients, our colleagues and even old friends called and came by.

It wasn’t business as usual, and we knew it. We talked about the day, what it meant, shared conversations and e-mail. Here are a few things that were on our minds:

– “Heart-wrenching to say the least,” said advertising account executive Michelle Anderson.

– “It is very hard to concentrate on work and not on the devastation in the lives of the direct victims of these attacks,” said special projects director Robbie L. Bell. “I want to go to New York or Washington and give blood. I want to go move rubble and look for survivors…So it’s more than a distraction.”

– Contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter sent an e-mail: Working on this “story less than two hours after the tragedy, everyone I talked to was stunned, as I was. It seemed surreal. Everything was still in a state of chaos and so much was yet unknown. But everyone, including me, was heartsick for the victims and their families of this terrible terrorist act.

“When my children came home from school, I hugged them tighter than usual. In the big picture, family’s what matters most.”

– “I believe that this day we have witnessed an event that will impact our country for generations to come,” said publisher Joe D. Jones. “The casualty count is not even begun, but there is no doubt that it will be of epic proportion. Today, we have lost the security of being surrounded by two oceans and two neighbors that have shielded America from foreign violence on our soil. I don’t think any of us will ever feel quite the same about our security.”

– “Although it is inconceivable how far reaching this tragedy is, or how many lives it has affected, the American people seem to have joined together in a way I’ve never seen before. We all are suddenly proud, concerned Americans…,” said ad rep Julie Thomas.

– “No matter what happens in the next two hours or in the next 50 years, our lives and the entire nation have changed,” said staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland. “I never thought I would see this happen on American soil.”

– Contributing writer Julie Whitehead wrote in an e-mail: “I was in college during the Gulf War and had the same reaction today — turn on CNN and NPR and monitor them both. I felt the same lurch in my stomach when I saw the North Tower fall live as I had when Bernard Shaw announced the military was in his Baghdad hotel room demanding he turn off his broadcasting equipment.”

– Staff writer Becky Gillette had a visitor from Germany last Tuesday — a visitor who was quick to point out how unusual it was to have no commercials on TV.

“Tomorrow the commercials will be back on,” he told Becky.

Her take? “Life will go on, but we’ll be forever changed by this. We’ll never again feel as secure knowing that this sort of thing can happen, that there are people out there that hate the U.S. this much — enough to do a suicide mission to prove their point. And people who have the skills, money and determination to pull off not one — but four — highjackings in one day.”

As more than one person pointed out, it’s a Tom Clancy novel come to life.

Late Tuesday night on MSNBC, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, struggling to give meaning and context to unfathomable events, suggested Americans look to our past.

Look to history, she said. She’s right. Remember what we’ve been through. Where we’ve come from. What we’re made of. The Minutemen of 1776. Lincoln at Gettysburg. Doughboys in France. Pearl Harbor. D-Day. Winter in Korea. The jungles of Vietnam. The Cold War. The Gulf War. And now, a war on the streets and in the skies of the United States.

Our country has been attacked; our friends and family broken, bloody and dead. But as President George W. Bush said, the “foundation” of America — our ideals, our freedom, our history — remains.

In the wake of tragedy and evil, we embrace everything that it means to be an American. It’s too bad it takes such horror for us to do that, but thank God we can — and thank God for each other.

Contact MBJ editor Jim Laird at jlaird@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

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