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Laura Bush: 'Age of self-absorption' is over

Laura Bush: "We've been living in an age of self-absorption .... But the amazing thing is that on one day it all stopped."  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The September 11 terrorist attacks have become a defining tragedy for a young generation and have ended "an age of self-absorption and self-indulgence," first lady Laura Bush said in a speech to the National Press Club Thursday.

The catastrophic event for her parents was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Bush said.

For her generation it was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, she said, recalling that she was a senior in high school at the time.

"I remember feeling as if a blanket had been thrown over our school," Bush said. "People cried. The horror was so sudden and so unimaginable.

"It was a sudden reminder at a very young age of how fragile life truly is."

Bush said she was on her way to meet with Sen. Edward Kennedy for a Senate Education Committee briefing when she was told a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York. Then she was told another plane had crashed into the second tower.

"I remember thinking that nothing ever would be the same," she said. "Words can't describe being with Kennedy's brother when it happened.

"We've been living in an age of self-absorption and self-indulgence. But the amazing thing is that on one day it all stopped. We started to rethink things. We began to think not about what is wrong, but about what is right, about our towns and our states and our country," Bush said.

"We're sadder and less innocent. More determined and prepared. Wiser and in many ways better -- more patriotic, more united and more compassionate.

"I've seen people helping strangers. I've seen strangers becoming heroes. I've seen people at their best."

She said President Bush has been "buoyed by the spirit of Americans."

The first lady, a former teacher, said she has spent a great deal of time with children since September 11 and has been heartened by their strength.

"Our children are working through the same feelings that we're working through, and they're doing it with remarkable resilience and wisdom," she said.

She urged parents to spend time with their children and reassure them they are safe in their homes and schools.

She said many children have made sacrifices to contribute to a national fund to help Afghan children caught in the U.S.-led campaign to rout terrorists based in Afghanistan.

While visiting a Washington elementary school where all but 27 of the 562 students qualified for a free or reduced-cost lunch program, she said, she was handed nearly $174 in contributions from the youngsters.

In Pennsylvania, she said there was a report about a 4-year-old girl who could not understand why people could hate an entire nation. Her question was, "Why don't we just tell them our names?" Bush said.

Bush said she misses seeing tourists at the White House. Tours were canceled after the attacks. But plans are moving ahead to decorate the presidential mansion for Christmas, as is the tradition.

"I reassessed the theme," she said, although she would not say what it is.

She said plans are in place to entertain Russian President Vladimir Putin and his wife at the Bushes' Texas ranch when they visit next week.

The Putins will be treated to traditional Texas entertainment and food, she said, including a chuck wagon, beef tenderloin, pecan pie and swing band.

When asked whether that would help U.S.-Russian relations, she responded that it would, especially now, "when our alliance with so many countries in our fight against terrorism is so important."

When asked whether she might eventually write a book, Bush said she would like to write one for children on the Bushes' dog.

She drew laughter when she said, "I guess that depends on whether I can get that $8 million advance," apparently referring to the advance given former first lady Hillary Clinton for her memoirs.


• The White House

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