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A Time of Testing
An Essay by NPR's Susan Stamberg

audio Listen to Stamberg's essay.

Susan Stamberg
Susan Stamberg

The news of yesterday morning's crash in Queens came quickly, without warning. But our reactions felt familiar.

Nov. 13, 2001 -- We know this experience. New York. A perfect morning. Then, sudden dark smoke, and flames, and tragedy. We know it too recently. So recently that we reel with it in ways that go beyond reactions to a particular, specific loss.

Voices grow quiet. Heads go down. There's a reach for buttons -- radio, TV, the telephone. Information comes in fragments -- a slow accumulation that begins to anchor random thoughts and fears.

A picture gradually emerges, but big questions remain. In the meantime -- and this is what September's terrorism has done, and the way terrorism makes its poisons felt most deeply -- there's the hope that this is "just" a mechanical failure.

"It's a time of testing, as leaders say. This is a nation accustomed to passing tests -- even though the answers, now, go far beyond the old multiple choices."

Susan Stamberg

"Just" an ordinary accident. As if any loss of lives is ordinary -- as if any crash or explosion or unexpected deaths can ever be a "just."

That's what has happened here, since the 11th of September. A holding of breath against what's next. A recognition of the unfinished knitting of September's scars. And the grim understanding that these shadows are always with us now -- ready to step into the newly harsh light in which we conduct our lives.

It's a time of testing, as leaders say. This is a nation accustomed to passing tests -- even though the answers, now, go far beyond the old multiple choices.

Susan Stamberg is a special correspondent for National Public Radio.