Look through the lattice of existence, and there's a universe spun around the miracle of pattern and repetition. From the petals arranged around the face of a daisy to the moon's unending sequence of ebbs and tides, the web of structures and cycles is manifested everywhere.
Our lives correspond to these predictable rhythms. The arc of the sun, the clouds on parade, the turning of the pages of the calendar - we trace these daily sojourns, year after year, and rely on their return to map the future. Home is anywhere the mind's eye recognizes the castle of the familiar.
As creatures of habit, we tend to repeat what has come before. Little wonder that we have wished to "get back to normal" after Sept. 11: to reestablish a routine around which we can rally.
Yet an odd thing is happening on the road to normality. Some part of us appears to be resisting.
Instead of flinging ourselves into old thinking and behaviors, we find ourselves more willing to withdraw and reflect. One overhears more conversations about "quality of life." Many have begun to reassess their life objectives with an eye toward adopting a more deliberate rhythm. Parents are devoting more time to their children. Non-Muslims have reached out to Muslim neighbors. People want to spend the holidays closer to home. Like a snail that remembers to return to its shell, we seem to be curling inward.
In a sense, you might say, we're turning into ourselves.
There is something deeply normal about this. Only it goes beyond the usual "normal." It originates in an impulse so embedded in the psyche that it bespeaks our emergence as a species on the planet.
The attacks on our nation seem to have smashed through our complacency and hurled us through layers of accumulated habit. Like Lewis Carroll's Alice, we tumbled down a hole and fell through the darkness, as if in a dream, until we woke up somewhere else, further down. And here the dark is altogether different. The place we've come to rest is a slower, more amazing, subterranean level of normality. You could say we've fallen back on the oldest of habits.