I remember the day everything changed as if it were yesterday. However, I must admit that I had not thought about how much changed that day for a long time. Unexpectedly, it all came back to me as I passed through the metal detector at Boston’s Logan Airport last week fully dressed, still wearing my shoes and sports jacket. The momentary return to civility reminded me of exactly what we lost as a national community in the aftermath of 9/11.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recently started an expedited security check program called TSA PreCheck. To participate in this program, travelers undergo a pre-screening process which, once completed, earns a frequent traveler the right to a less involved security check at a growing list of airports. There is a domestic and international version of the program. The international program, however, requires a personal interview and a registration fee of $100.
Once you qualify for the program, you are able to enter an airport security checkpoint through a special line. Flyers in this line are not required to go through the usual gymnastics of emptying bags while removing shoes and belts. You just empty your pockets, put your bag on the conveyor belt and walk through the metal detector fully dressed. It’s quick and easy—just like the old days.
When I registered for the program, I was only thinking of the time it would save. I had noticed that the security checkpoint lines for TSA PreCheck were notably shorter than even the priority access lines. I was envious of the time and hassle that other flyers were saving. I had no idea that going through a metal detector fully clothed would have the cathartic benefit that it did.
Walking through the metal detector calm and clothed was like passing through a time portal back to a better time. It was liberating. It lifted a decade of weight off my shoulders. I felt a flock of albatrosses had finally left me. I was free—the memories of fumbled bags and lost belts faded away. First, I was dumbfounded then I was elated.
My memory of September 11th, 2001 runs deeper than mere inconvenience, as I am sure it does for most people. I was scheduled to fly from Providence to Chicago on a mid-morning flight that ill-fated Tuesday. I cried in empathy along with an American Airlines agent as she informed me that flights were canceled. Later that night, I learned that the tragedy had struck much closer to home than I had first realized. The day remains in my mind as a series of hours, each designated by its own related, but separate life-long memory. Changes in airport security will never wash these painful memories away.
Yet, part of the legacy of 9/11 is the damage it did to our sense of public safety. I remember the following day trying to enter an office building that I had visited for years unannounced only to be stopped by security. Immediately, I realized what it meant to live in the shadow of terrorism. Being checked was not just a hassle—it was an infringement, an insult to our collective sensibilities.
Unlike the lost lives, this can be fixed. We can put an end to this vulnerable feeling, which was implanted in us that day. I applaud TSA for leading the way. We need to identify more areas where we can recapture our civility and work diligently to do so. It is time that we reconsider all the modifications we made to our lives in response to 9/11. It is time that we reconsider our involvement in costly battles abroad and unnecessary actions at home. It is time to take back our lost civility.
He taught Latin and English in a Catholic High School from 1987 to 1990, traded commodities, futures and options for an international trading company from 1990 to 1995 and directed a free Catholic mission school in Haiti for academically gifted children from the poorest areas around Port au Prince from 1996 to 2006.
Deacon Moynihan was ordained in October of 2001 as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Rockford [IL] where he was the director of formation and later the Office for the Permanent Diaconate from 2001 to 2006. He has since gone back to Haiti and is currently the president of The Haitian Project.