Special Reports

One year later, residents changed but unbowed

A Boeing 747 lumbers across the sky, improbably huge against the cityscape, sunlight sparking off its wings.

A year ago, the sight of the plane would have been uncomplicated here in the Northwest, even an object of pride.

But since Sept. 11, many people can't look at big aircraft the way they used to. The sight brings a twist of fear. Their minds transform planes into hurtling missiles, capable of reducing life to ash and flame.

A year after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, many people still make such connections.

Whether it's the sight of airplanes, high-rise buildings and tattered flags or a panicky feeling in crowds, daily life is full of unwelcome triggers that bring bad memories rushing back, leaving a sense of unease that never completely fades.

"Even with the wars - with Vietnam - those ended," says Wilkeson business owner Suzan Albrecht. "This is just day to day."

It has become a cliché to say America is not the same place it was on Sept. 10, 2001.

But how did the attacks really change life 3,000 miles from ground zero?

Outwardly, things are pretty much back to normal.

Public opinion surveys show that the surge of people who said they were spending more time focused on home and family has abated. The fear of flying has faded, and people no longer microwave their mail.

The kaleidoscope of public attention has shifted to corporate greed. Sales of gas-guzzling SUVs have never been better, and Democrats are once again savaging President Bush in public.

And yet, things are not the same. Time has dulled the sharp edges of shock and grief, but the memory of Sept. 11 is embedded in our collective psyche.

Like someone who's been sucker-punched, we are tougher, sadder and more careful.

Some still summon tears for the victims. Others worry about the loss of civil liberties. Some say their businesses have suffered. Some say they have rediscovered a sense of patriotism. Others argue that America's misfortune is a byproduct of its arrogance.

The News Tribune spent a week gathering views from residents as the anniversary of Sept. 11 approached.