Not quite satisfied? Not happy? Not entirely at peace? Survey your life. Assess your personal pile. Start your cleanup effort, as we did at Ground Zero. Do it one bucket at a time and don’t stop. Enlist help if necessary—you’re likely not as alone as you might sometimes feel. Toss what you must. Recycle what you can. Know it will be costly—change will always exact a price—but keep your eye on the prize.

This might mean you have to terminate certain relationships and/or start others. You might have to end a destructive habit or two using whatever resources you’ve got at your disposal. It might be necessary to leave your job. To start a new one. To change your priorities, such as spending more time with your family, pursuing your artistic dream, or serving others somehow. Maybe you have to let go of old pain and resentment, forgive your parents for their human failings. It’s possible you need forgiveness for some awful thing you did. Start by forgiving yourself, then make yourself worthier of forgiveness by the injured party, yourself, the rest of the world, and the Man Upstairs.

Then move on. If it’s unclear to you whether or not to apologize outright, err on the side of doing so, and don’t wait till your deathbed. Genuinely and unequivocally apologizing is not an act of weakness. It takes courage, and old-fashioned Conservative values, such as personal responsibility. Be clear and courageous, do what you must do to right the wrong—then move on with your life.

Living with regret and self-loathing, victimhood, resentment—all of that’s a venomous mound, a brownfield. Clear it out or you can’t rebuild. Clean it out or it’ll kill you. If you must, board up the site, abandon it, and move somewhere else.

Start with the practical. Maybe you’ve suffered legitimate terror in your life, so you must do everything in your power to escape some circumstance—to flee abuse, for example. Or maybe you need only to take some night classes, finally have that talk with your boss. Stop going to so many office parties for people you don’t even like—and spend that time on self-improvement or making yourself better at your job.

Most of us have accumulated a fairly gnarly pile of psychic debris. Usually, the deeper you dip into a heap like that, the more intense it gets—it’s just physics. Official thermal imaging from a NASA plane above Ground Zero showed the hottest spots below the pile ranged from 800 to more than 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit. But an engineering firm consulting on safety, health, and environmental factors on the site claims its helicopter recorded daily underground thermal temperatures higher than 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit—which is exactly the melting point of iron. The point is, be careful you don’t get burned.

Unless we can eliminate that pile, though, and keep those buckets moving, we’ll never be able to build anything new, to make what we want of our lives. We won’t be able to refashion ourselves as great, or even greater. We certainly won’t be able to return America to greatness. Take responsibility. That means no matter how dire your circumstances, you have the ability to respond. Don’t be a victim. Don’t wait for the dustman or the fed-up neighbors to finally hop the fence and clean up your mess because they’re sick of looking at it and the rats it lures.

Just remember, whatever you do, it will not happen overnight. When it feels overwhelming, remember the cleanup and recovery efforts in that zone of annihilation northeast of Vesey and West. Workers in twenty-four-hour bucket brigades sifted through and carried out much of the 1.8 million tons of noxious debris at Ground Zero five pounds at a time—108,342 truckloads¹ of destruction. It took eight months and nineteen days to haul off, and you’d need time-lapse photography to ever see them making a dent. They just kept going, like hard-hatted Energizer Bunnies.

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