The Best of Americans

On Sunday the world will commemorate 10 years since that Tuesday morning when thousands of lives were senselessly taken and heroism was selflessly displayed. This week, the unforgettable images will be replayed. The clear day breaking over New York with its blue autumn skies. Firemen walking up the stairs, knowingly marching into danger. White ash covering lower Manhattan, like Krakow when the crematorium burned in Auschwitz. The countless funeral processions. People leaping out of the windows of the burning towers. The flag defiantly planted atop the twisted steel rubble that once was the World Trade Center – before the unimaginable evil descended upon us.

Every nation has distinctive characteristics. As Americans, we love freedom and independence; we tend to be friendly and open. But the quality of which I am most proud shines brightest in the darkness of tragedy when the best of our countrymen rises to the top like cream. In the wake of 9-11, Americans everywhere rallied to help those in need. People lined up to give blood, donated generously, and flocked to churches to pray. The 250-year-old St. Paul’s Chapel, miraculously unscathed although it stands across the street from the World Trade Center, became the place of rest and refuge for the ones who, day after day and night after night, tirelessly searched for survivors.

Do you remember, as I do, strangers being kinder for the next several weeks and months? I witnessed a marked difference on the California freeways. The usually aggressive drivers treated each other with courtesy. People in lines at the grocery stores were more patient. Even though I lived in a part of the country where few American flags were visible, I saw the images of towns across our land proudly flying the red, white, and blue. We put aside our differences and came together to help. We care. That is the best of America. Why can’t we display that quality without a natural disaster or national tragedy bringing it out? Why do we so quickly revert to lives wrapped around our personal pursuit of happiness? I have no answers today; only questions.

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