I have been to Japan twice.  On one visit, I had the privilege of visiting Nagasaki and touring Ground Zero, where so many years ago a single, powerful bomb dropped, igniting the city and its inhabitants.  On my second visit, I did the same thing in Hiroshima.  I found Ground Zero and walked its perimeter, haunted by the realization that when the bomb dropped there, as at Nagasaki, the temperature was briefly measured in thousands of degrees Celsius.  Both times I toured museums that commemorated the losses incurred by those first, and only, uses of nuclear weapons in war.

Each time I was humbled by the history of human suffering in those places.  I’ll always remember the photos, statues and displays that are testament to the horrors of war.  But even as I was saddened by what I saw, I was amazed.  Surrounding the sites of each blast, where it seemed the heat of the sun visited the earth, vibrant cities live on.  Peaceful gardens are full of flowers.  Memorial shrines are all around. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are populated by busy citizens seeking their own happiness, most of whom have no personal memory of the war.

Today I write from New York City.  I’m here for a meeting with some other medical bloggers.  Some years ago I was here for a different kind of meeting.  I was helping to educate New York City hospital workers and paramedics on the medical management of terrorist weapons.  Later, it turned out that while our team had covered bombs and chemicals, viruses and bacteria effectively, we had unknowingly left out airliners destroying skyscrapers.

This is my first visit to New York after September 11, 2001.  Here there is also a Ground Zero; I walked past it with my family.  Where the Twin Towers once inspired passers-by, there is a vast emptiness, itself testimony to the men and women who were lost when hatred became incarnate that bright autumn morning.

But Ground Zero in New York City, like Nagasaki and Hiroshima, is a place where life goes on.   Construction is taking place at the site once graced by the World Trade Center.  Over time other structures will rise.  Eventually, someone will tour the site and look up, amazed that all those years ago, an airplane flew into a tower, and then another, and that something so enormous actually fell to the earth in a deadly pile of rubble, fire and smoke.

Nevertheless, the hard truth is that cities all over the world have endured plagues and wars, fires and storms, floods and every imaginable tragedy and have risen from the misery.  Wait, what I mean is that humans have endured all of those things; cities are only functional collections of humans, after all.  Their strength is not found in steel or concrete, but in the mighty hearts of their inhabitants.

Although my family has never been with me to Japan, they all enjoy New York.  They love it for its businesses, its museums and art, its food and shopping.  I hope they’ll also learn to love it because its courage, the courage of its people, is one of the most inspiring episodes of American history.

And I hope my children will see that New York represents all of us.  Because America, land of their birth, faces a perilous future.  It may not be quite the same as a bomb falling from the sky.  It may not be the same as another terrorist attack.  It may be worse.  Our current national Ground Zero involves massive economic problems, a psychology of crisis (some real and some manufactured), possible further terrorist strikes and growing cultural/political divides between right and left.  We are in danger of reactionary policies and the dramatic restructuring of our political system.

But we can learn.  Humans need not be lost in fear, paralyzed by inactivity or resigned to our fates.  We can change and adapt.  Though we struggle, we can emerge, survive and thrive.  It’s in our God-given nature.

One day, my children, or theirs may read about this time in American history.  They may read about this time when things seemed about as bleak, debt-ridden and jobless as possible.  And I hope and pray that they’ll look around at their prosperity, industry, health and (hopefully) freedom and say ‘America survived again.  Americans survived again.  Politicians only helped.  We did it.’

Because frankly, we always have and we still can.  We are not crisis, failure, devastation or loss.  We are not Ground Zero.  We endure, and we rebuild it.

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