From the Publisher

The Numbing of AmericaGiven the Ultimate Freedom, Have We Forgotten How to Feel?

You have probably been there and felt the pain. Atlanta … it’s late in the day, you are running to make the flight home. Yes, it’s the concourse and gate that are as far from your arrival gate as possible. By the time you get there, the waiting area is packed … the flight is full and people are jostling for a stand-by seat.

Last June, I had the distinct pleasure of enduring four of these fire drills and on the last one – after finally making it to my undersized seat next to the window – I began what would become an hour-long wait before we finally backed away from the gate. It was the end of the day, when your clothes don’t quite have that crisp feeling they did 12 hours prior, and your knees start to ache badly due to a lack of blood flow because they’re crammed into the seat in front of you. I was tired and growing crabby because of all the patronizing excuses the pilot was yammering over the loudspeaker. I sat there staring out the window, feeling sorry for myself during this moment in life where I had absolutely no control of my existence. I was just wallowing in a pool of self-pity when, at that moment, a sharp slap came across my very unhappy face.

I watched as a luggage cart pulled up to the plane. When the ground crew pulled the drape back, I saw a large cardboard box that obviously contained the remains of a fellow human being. At that moment, my unresolved personal issues vanished and I came to the harsh reality that what I was feeling and experiencing was no more important than a speck of sand on all the beaches of the world combined. I had plenty of time to think about life from a different perspective during my 45-minute ride home. I overheard several groups of people all focused on rushing home so they could catch the Larry King interview of the century – Paris Hilton discussing her first free day in two weeks.

When we pulled up to the gate, the flight crew asked that we all remain seated. With a sigh, I just thought, what now? Here came that hand across my face again. We were asked to remain seated while a military escort deboarded first to stand beside the plane while a “fallen soldier” was removed from our flight. Those bags of “Catholic guilt” I carry around became much heavier.

As my seat was in the rear, I had 20 minutes to watch the escort standing at parade rest planeside while the ground crew removed the passenger luggage. As we all filed out of the plane into the darkened terminal, only one other passenger and myself walked in the opposite direction so we might observe the solemn process and pay our respects. The ground crew drove the conveyor belt truck to planeside and, in a moment, the cardboard box began its journey down the conveyor belt to a waiting cart. The military escort snapped to attention and saluted his fellow soldier’s return home while the ground crew seemed oblivious to the somber event.

My thoughts fixed on the fact that this person walked through the airport one day to begin his service to our country and to help secure the way of life we have the privilege to enjoy. Regardless of your politics and opinion of America’s war on terrorism, this person’s return home was in the cargo hold of a Delta airline jet. I am very sad for him, his family and friends, and am humbly appreciative of what he has given up so that you and I can continue to experience a free way of life.

If one looks back through centuries of time and the recorded histories of various civilizations that rose to a zenith and then declined either to obscurity or a lower level of existence – there is a marked point in time that their society began to deteriorate. My observation of more than 100 people totally numb to an American tragedy, only to be so self-absorbed and excited about rushing home for the Paris Hilton interview, makes me wonder if historians a century from now will look at this era as America’s zenith. For our children and grandchildren, I hope not.