It can take months to push a health care bill through Congress, years to build an oil tanker that can drill off the American eastern seaboard and decades for social security to run out. It can take seconds to emotionally and politically cripple a country.
In that same amount of time, a few seconds - minutes at most - one tragic event can change the perspective and level of awareness of anyone who cares to think about its implications.
On April 10, a plane carrying the Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 other Polish government officials crashed in Russia. No one survived. This incident alone would be enough to devastate the government and people of Poland. What escalates this disaster into a tragedy is the intended destination of the plane.
Kaczynski and his fellow statesmen were flying to Katyn, Russia, an area where almost exactly 70 years ago, at least 20,000 Polish soldiers and civilians were brutally murdered and buried by Soviet soldiers under the command of Joseph Stalin.
As an American, I have been totally caught up in the drama that is the 111th Congress. Bitter and nasty partisanship has characterized health care reform, discussions about economic issues, State dinners and everything in between. All of those issues are important, but what happened in Poland, both on Saturday and 70 years ago, calls for a pause in the action.
Thank goodness we live in the United States of America. I don't care where you're going to move if health care reform is or is not instituted, or how you identify yourself sexually, religiously or whatever. There is no denying that we are some of the luckiest people on Earth when it comes to safety and the freedom to live our lives without the constant threat of mass murder determining our actions.
Obviously, America is not perfect. Slavery was atrocious, and this country is far from total and complete equality for all, but we have never, ever had to deal with anything even close to what Europe has experienced. If you combine the deaths of Pearl Harbor and the September 11th attacks and ignore the War of 1812, about 6,000 Americans have died at the hands of foreign aggressors on American soil. More than triple that number died on one day in Katyn.
I have heard countless people comparing the United States to random European countries when it comes to health care or social policy, but it isn't as simple as that. Europe is not all paid sick days and Swiss chocolate; it has a devastatingly sad and violent past full of famine, discrimination and bloodshed that is not going to just go away.
The people of Poland observed two minutes of silence to remember their fallen president this weekend. Let's all take two minutes to block out all of the immature bickering and Chicken Little-esque punditry associated with our country at the moment and just appreciate where we are and how we got here.