9/11 – A Time to Try Men’s Souls

Note: I wrote this column in 2001 right after 9/11. I republish it today in honor of all the victims of eleven years ago.


“These are the times that try men’s souls.”

Thomas Paine, 1776, The American Crisis

Thomas Paine

 By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Two centuries later Thomas Paine’s words serve as a guide for our nation’s pain during the past several weeks.

The pain is evident in the voices and faces of those who speak of the events of September 11. Some people constantly read and watch the news. Others turn from it, hoping it will go away. Still others try to stay away from reading and listening, but are inexplicably drawn to the media like the moths come to the candle burning brightly on my porch.

I have a friend who is a state trooper in Michigan. He has been out of uniform for years now, working as a detective. Last week he was ordered to Lansing to be fitted for a uniform. All the state troopers in Michigan received the order.

“. . .lay your shoulders to the wheel; better have too much force than too little, when so great an object is at stake,” Paine wrote.

Someone told me about his sister who runs all the restaurants in the Jacksonville Airport. They have removed steak from the menus. The restaurants all sit inside the security check areas where steak knives were used daily. It’s too easy to walk away with one in a pocket or purse or backpack and board the plane.

“. . .God Almighty will not give up a people to military destruction, or leave them unsupportedly to perish, who have so earnestly and so repeatedly sought to avoid the calamities of war, by every decent method which wisdom could invent,” Paine believed.

I struggle daily with feelings of revenge and hopes for peace. However, I know that we as a nation will not survive in the world if we don’t do something to give meaning to the deaths of so many. From the rubble we have risen strong, and we must show terrorists of destruction that we are a nation of strengths brought together by the beliefs of democracy, and even with the diversity of our cultures, we all love our country.

“ ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death,” Paine predicted.

This morning I walked along the road trying to clear my head and push aside the heaviness of depression, which has threatened to smother me since September 11. I began to look around me and lose myself in nature. Flowers bloomed everywhere along the roadside. Goldenrod, asters in yellow and white, and wild morning glories waved at me as I breathed in the cool air and looked to the sky forgetting for once the fear of seeing planes overhead. Instead two birds flew low perhaps looking for berries among the wildflowers.


For the first time in weeks, I felt hope.

“I love the man that can smile at trouble; that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection,” Paine noted in parentheses as an afterthought to his dissertation on fighting the British.

Towers of Light

And so I gather hope in fleeting moments and hold it close in order to make sense of the chaos of the world. I hope we will forget our petty differences and forget about discriminating against others just because they are different.

I have hope that as a nation we can rise above partisanship and simply work as one to maintain the principles of this country set forth by our forefathers. And I hope the closeness established between families and friends who have taken the time to reach out to one another does not leave when the threats and insecurities of the past few weeks no longer lay like a cloud above our heads. I still have hope we can love one another through all this mess and remain loyal to our principles.

“These are the time that try men’s souls,” but once those souls have been tried, it is the valiant and strong and fair whose souls remain intact and continue to hope for a better world.


Published by P. C. Zick

I write. It's as simple and as complicated as that. Storytelling creates our cultural legacy.

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