COVER

Coping mechanisms

We’ve changed, but in subtle ways since Sept. 11

KEN MACQUEEN December 31 2001
COVER

Coping mechanisms

We’ve changed, but in subtle ways since Sept. 11

KEN MACQUEEN December 31 2001

Coping mechanisms

We’ve changed, but in subtle ways since Sept. 11

KEN MACQUEEN

The day is slipping away, and Marion Mclsaac of tiny River Hebert, N.S., is anxious to get going. “Five more minutes,” she warns a telephone caller, “I have Christmas shopping to do.” If the world is a dangerous and more complex place after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, it is also, conversely, a simpler one. So we turn to the things that have taken us this far: familiar rimais for some, faith for others and family for most.

Life in River Hebert—not far from the New Brunswick border but plenty far from Afghanistan—has largely returned to normal, in Mclsaac s view. The transfixing images of planes slamming into buildings have been placed in a sad kind of perspective. Here, she is safe. She has never been on an airplane in her 51 years, and she’s not about to start now. Her orbit extends to the many relatives who live nearby, to her husband on a disability pension, to her two daughters, one married, one 14 and living at home. “My family,” she says, “means more to me now than they ever did before.” It was a given in the aftermath of those attacks that life has changed, profoundly and forever. The annual Macleans/CBC News poll shows otherwise—at least at the personal level. “Yes, there is a large sense that this topic isn’t going to go away for a long time,” says Allan Gregg, chairman of The Strategic Counsel, the firm that conducted the poll. “But they haven’t turned their lives inside out.” Rather, everyday life took on some extra baggage—the knowledge that, as members of the world’s wealthy and privileged elite, we are vulnerable in ways we hadn’t imagined.

Three months after the attacks, there is little evidence that most Canadians, unsure what may yet come, have been warped by hate, fear or anger. There seems, instead, a wary appreciation of evil, an awareness that informs our decisions, al-

tering the course of lives in subde, though often surprising ways.

Three-quarters of Canadians say they have taken more interest in news reports since the terror attacks, and almost as many, 72 per cent, turn to family for support. Nationally, 79 per cent of women respondents are “more appreciative” of family life, compared to 66 per cent of men. Adantic Canada, with its famously closeknit ties, leads the nation, with 85 per cent reporting a new appreciation for family.

Are we ready to renounce our secular, materialistic society? In the main, no. No more than one-quarter say they have “less interest in material wealth and possessions” or feel a “stronger need for religious beliefs.” Even fewer, 16 per cent, feel more drawn to a place of worship. Says Gregg: “The approach here is surprisingly rational. It’s not hysterical, it’s not overwhelming, it’s not truculent. They don’t have spitde coming down their chins.”

It’s not that Canadians were untouched by the events. Rather, aside from a thirst for information and a drawing close to family, the responses of poll respondents are individual rather than universal. In Windsor, Ont., Stéphane Héroux, a private security officer who turns 19 on Dec. 31, will return to school in January. He figures it will take two years of college, maybe university after that, and a strict fitness regimen to realize his dream. “I want to be a fireman,” he tells Macleans in a follow-up interview, acknowledging the heroics of New York City’s firefighters, and the example of those he meets in Windsor while working security detail, as inspirations. “They like their job,” says Héroux. “They like who they are.”

John W Smith recalls thinking, that September morning at his home in Harbour Grace, Nfld., “My glory, I can’t believe it.” The events have turned the retail sales clerk into a news junkie in his 40s, with opinions on all he sees and reads. Full marks to Fi-

SHIFTING PRIORITIES

Q: As a result of the terrorist attacks and the U.S.-led response, have you experienced any of the following lately?

nance Minister Paul Martin for spending heavily on domestic security in his budget, Smith says. However, the $100 million earmarked for assistance to Afghanistan and its reffigees sticks in his craw. “Why don’t we look after our own?” he asks.

Though Smith has taken a new interest in the wider world, he draws comfort from the near and dear—his wife of 26 years, his four children, aged nine to 21, and St. Josephs, his Roman Catholic church. He has never left his home province, but his

17-year-old daughter has already been to England with the Sea Cadets. Now, to Smiths distress, she may join the navy after high school. This brings a distant war uncomfortably close to Harbour Grace. Asked his daughters name, Smith grows

protective. “Em not releasing that information,” he says, responding with the caution of a Pentagon spokesman. “You don’t know who’s on the other end of the phone, I’m only going on your word you’re a news reporter.”

Patricia Harrison, a 50-year-old autoworker living in Lakeshore, Ont., near Windsor, finds her 23year-old son, a newly graduated engineer, is also considering a military career. Should that happen, “I will be very proud,” she says. “Freedom comes at a cost.” Harrison, a Presbyterian, says the crisis has drawn her deeper into her faith. She is trying to learn more about the Muslim faith and the battle-scarred history of Afghanistan and its extremists. “Even though it is very difficult, we must pray for our enemies,” she says. “It’s a huge test of faith.”

On one October day, Vancouver’s firefighters held out their rubber boots and raised $535,000 for their fallen comrades in New York. The amount was far beyond the expectations of Rod MacDonald, 46, president of the local firefighters’ union. Since then, he estimates 200 members, one-quarter of the department, has visited New York at their own expense, as have police and firefighters from across Canada. They have attended funerals, paid their respects and delivered what he believes is a message to those responsible for such sorrow: “You will not beat us.”

He’d wondered, visiting New York, how God could countenance such tragedy. Back in Vancouver, an answer of sorts, has appeared. MacDonald thinks people hug more than they used to. He thinks those who serve the community are accorded a respect that had “eroded” over the years. It is a small enough thing, but people wave at fire trucks again. It says to MacDonald that we’ve come though this intact—a finding that accords with Macleans annual measure of the national mood. “I’m not a Sunday church-going person,” he says. “The only thing that I can come up with that makes any sense is that it’s a test. It’s a test, and it’s one that we can pass. And when we pass it, were stronger as a community, and as individuals.” G3