Abe accomplished nothing, really, except to decide on Sept. 11, 2001, as the twin towers of death and fear filled his 27th-floor office, just what kind of man he would be. We can't control death; it comes to us all in the end. But that choice, Abe's choice, we keep to the end: What kind of person will I be?
Abe, a 55-year-old computer programmer, was a devout Jew who read the Torah daily. "Why are you still in there?" his brother Jack demanded when Abe called soon after the first plane hit. Why? Because his friend Ed, a paraplegic, was also there. "You've got to get out of there," Jack said frantically. But Abe couldn't, or rather wouldn't. He couldn't save Ed's life. But he wouldn't become the kind of guy who leaves a paralyzed friend to die alone.
Death comes to us all, but not all of us get to be Abe Zelmanowitz before we die.
Now we are at war, and war is always us vs. them. But who is the us that is at war? Abe's question: Who are we going to choose to be? In the raw emotions unleashed by this act of war, the danger is we will lapse from our high sense of common moral purpose and lash out at each other.
I mean Muslims and Arab-Americans, of course. Americans who bully others are, as President Bush said, the worst of mankind -- not the best of America. But not just Islamic Americans. Last week I opened a file called the Not-My-Enemies list.
For example: Bill Maher made some ill-worded criticism of America's past bomb-'em-and-bail-out tactics, but when the U.S. military strikes, Bill Maher will be rooting for them. Bill Maher is not my enemy. Jerry Falwell took one traditional Christian response to national disaster -- as a call to profound repentance -- and degraded it to partisan bickering. But Jerry Falwell did not wake up on a bright September morning plotting to murder his way to paradise. Jerry Falwell is not my enemy.
The ordinary people who in their fright and shock advocate indiscriminate mass bombing are deeply in need of both comfort and leadership, a call to reasoned action -- but these Americans are not my enemy.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.
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