As most Americans are tempted by the sweet aromas of turkey and cranberries this holiday season, the family and friends of those who lost their lives in the Sept. 11 attacks and on American Airlines Flight 587 will reconcile themselves to the overwhelming emptiness of death.
As the survivors navigate the currents of pain and remorse, perhaps we should all pause a moment for perspective, and give thanks for America and the American way of life; a way of life that is bound up in the Bill of Rights; a way of life that treasures those basic freedoms that we associate with happiness, like the freedom to better oneself, to determine one's own destiny, to pursue happiness on one's own terms, and most importantly, the freedom to be left alone.
I have in the past used this space to write that America's success has made its citizens comfortable to the point of complacency. I have warned that this sort of decadence leads to the fall (Exhibit A: Rome).
Perhaps, in retrospect, the point was overstated.
On Sept. 11, we were not complacent, nor did we fall. Rather, heroes showed up. As the twin towers darkened with smoke, hundreds of firefighters, rescue workers and police officers rushed in. These had been ordinary people, with ordinary lives. Yet on that day, they did the most extraordinary thing. They did not shrink from duty or bravery or even the ultimate sacrifice.
Since Sept. 11, the news has been plastered with more signs of heroism.
A few examples: Groups of people quit their jobs to volunteer at a New York Italian Restaurant located near ground zero. Together, they now feed 4,000 rescue workers a month.
There is the couple who drove a barbecue pit from Texas to New York, then promptly deposited the contraption at a bar in New York, which now provides grilled treats gratis to those involved in the rescue efforts.
Then there is the group of police officers charged with leading a processional every time an officer's body is found. These solemn services occur as bodies are carried from the World Trade Center rubble. Having got word of the processions, throngs of people now join the small group of officers in prayer.
Let us not forget the massage parlor that shut down offices and relocated to ground zero, where they now spend their days loosening the strained muscles of firefighters, construction workers and rescue personnel.
Osama bin Laden thought he would kill the spirit of America. Instead, his acts of terrorism only brought out the best, causing Americans to unite and see themselves as one under God.
Plainly, this country still has the courage to be free.
This holiday season, we should give thanks for this rousing revelation, as well as for the bravery and sacrifice of those who have reminded us what it means to be a hero.