Nancy Gibbs: “we have not merely returned to the messy family arguments of Sept. 10” What We’ve Learned — Sep. 11, 2006:

An American businessman, traveling in India when the planes struck the towers, made his way back to the U.S. the following week as quickly as he could. That meant hopscotching across the Middle East, stopping in Athens overnight to change planes. He spent the evening having supper in a local taverna. No one else in the restaurant spoke English, but when the owner realized he had an American in the house just two nights after 9/11, he asked his guest to stand up, face the other diners and listen to a toast.

And indeed, the entire room stood up, raised their glasses and said, as one, “Shoulder to shoulder, until justice is done.”

Five years later, after an invasion of Afghanistan and an occupation of Iraq, and amid talk of war with Iran, it is fair to ask:

Would they say it again tonight?

Would we say it to one another?

This has become the loss with no grave, no chance for mourning, because we still live it every day–the loss of that transcendent unity, global goodwill, common purpose born of righteous anger that wrapped us like a bandage those first months after the attacks: a President with a 90% approval rating, a Congress working as one, expressions of sympathy and offers of help from every corner of the planet. WE ARE ALL AMERICANS, said Le Monde.

That unity was never going to last.

…In the weeks after 9/11, out of the pain and the fear there arose also grace and gratitude, eruptions of intense kindness that occurred everywhere, a sharp resolve to just be better, bigger, to shed the nonsense, rise to the occasion. And yet five years later, more than two-thirds of Americans say they are unhappy with how things are going–exactly the opposite of the weeks after the attacks, when people were crushed, but hopeful. We saw back then what we were capable of at our best, and now find ourselves just moving on, willing to listen to our leaders but not necessarily believe them, supporting the troops but disputing their mission, waiting, more resigned than resolved, for the next twist in the plot.