“Experience,” it has been said, “is a hard teacher. She gives the test first and the lesson afterward.”
In the aftermath of the most heinous terrorist attack that the world has ever seen, it is very difficult to find any consolation, any comfort. Yet we must remain vigilant that horror, destruction and loss are not the only things that arise from this disaster.
Some good must come from adversity — yes, this is one test that brings many lessons afterward.
Foremost within the good is the reminder of the countless blessings that Americans enjoy and often take for granted: the freedom to speak openly and worship without fear; the opportunity to translate hard work into success in a free-market economy; the chance to study any subject at world-class universities; the access to the finest health care, entertainment and consumer goods; and all of this while equally protected under the rule of law administered by a government that is ultimately responsible to the people.
These are the components of the American dream. These are the drivers of the great American spirit that has shone brightly in the weeks after the attack.
Reinforcing this lesson is the remarkable level of support that America is receiving from abroad, not only from our traditional allies, but even more notably from countries whose relations with the United States are usually cold. It is a tribute to the common link of humanity and a strong endorsement of the good that America has brought about in the world.
The United States has long been a defender of freedom around the globe — in two world wars and beyond — offering a helping hand when possible, guiding the world’s course toward democracy and liberty. The support all of these countries are giving us in the fight against terrorism should be a powerful lesson about the success of the American system.
This is not meant to be read as “my country, right or wrong.” Are there problems? Of course there are. No government operated by individuals can be perfect because we as individuals are not perfect. Mistakes have been made in both our foreign and domestic policies, and more will surely be made in the future. Yes, there are many areas that need improvement.
But let us not miss the forest for the trees. On the balance, America does well by her citizens and fellow nations; her principles are sound, even in the few instances when her best intentions result in less than ideal outcomes.
In fact, though it is easy to focus on the negative aspects of life, the lesson from the recent events is clear: things go right much more often than they go wrong — we just do not notice it. America has seen the worst and responded with the best. Volunteers, rescue workers, elected officials and financial supporters have all shown the true colors of American courage.
The blessings of generosity, leadership and resolve are more evident now than ever. We see these in New York; Washington, D.C.; and Pennsylvania. But we also see them in hometowns across the country and on campuses like our own, with the benefit concert sponsored by the Musical Cure at Yale this coming Sunday serving as a prime example.
Indeed, our many gifts afford us the ability, if not the responsibility, to help our fellow citizens when they are in need — this ability itself being another treasure of America.
And so America has been harshly tested by a terrible experience. But she has passed without question and will be left with lasting, valuable lessons that no attack can destroy.
William Edwards is a senior in Pierson College.