Jewish World Review May 10, 2002 / 28 Iyar, 5762

Lewis A. Fein

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Let us praise ordinary men -- The most sublime message of last September is that life - denied by war, shortened by sickness or stolen by cruelty - is brief. That innocent men and women can leave this earth just as painfully, unfortunately and unfairly as they may have entered it. That some cultures celebrate the murderous actions of an evil few, invoking the heavenly paradise that allegedly awaits these terrible killers; while the world's innocents - people whose last words bear the silent anxiety of missed opportunities and unfulfilled love - say goodbye -- to what their hopes had embraced; their children had expected; and their clergy had eulogized.

But death does not destroy these hopes, nor mock the transcendent idea of this great nation: that America's cities are the places where things - joyous things, ironic things, lovely things and even demonic things - happen. For the legacy of every victim, whether properly buried, inconsolably lost or incompletely summarized by newspaper ink, continues -- in simple, honorable, everyday work. This legacy of work is every city's bride, the chemistry that populates locomotives, decorates grand boulevards and fills gleaming skyscrapers.

This work explains a different kind of bravery. The kind of quiet heroism born of time and sacrifice, where there is majesty in the mundane; where husbands or wives, transposed against the turnpike's traffic or the subway's darkness, preoccupy themselves with numbers: upon what a mortgage demands or tuition requires; upon the personal statistics that signify medical health or terminal illness; upon those numbers that constitute life's address, between where one is and where one hopes to be.

This bravery is also the immigrant's dream, where, given the strangeness of language and life, the newcomer looks upward -- past Gothic steeples and religious spires, toward the office tower's brilliant sheen. He gives the tower life, operating its elevators and polishing its steel. He welcomes the tower's patrons, and he elegantly illuminates its beams: a patriotic trinity of red, white and blue, visible within the city's charter and across the river's glow.

This bravery is the firemen's reality. He tames the tower's edges, respecting its strength and controlling its rage. He climbs its great stairs, searching for the cornered few and terrified many. He wields his ax to rescue, not destroy.

This bravery is the citizen's duty. He may ignore or deny his city's problems, but he will never forsake his city's heart: that if the tower burns, or its patrons die, he will do his part - as an American and as a man - to demonstrate compassion. He will release his wealth, and he will acknowledge those beside him.

This bravery is the nation's will. This national bravery includes America's cities, but it reflects its interior spirit. This bravery comes from the Midwest, where the region's warmth - replete with martial values and moral standards - shoulders Chicago's skyline; where the railway snakes its way across brush and abundant farmland; where a person's hands ache from the soil that claims his blood and the sun that burns his skin; where a stare bespeaks eloquence of character, not pedigree or power.

The greatest legacy life can bestow upon these fallen heroes is remembrance through action. Remembrance through basic ritual, which demands that man improve his life -- if not for material comforts or societal awards, then for the humble recognition that others - within and beyond his bloodline - accept the modesty of work. For the dignity of work makes these ordinary Americans life's glorious heroes.

JWR contributor Lewis A. Fein is a writer and Internet entrepreneur in Los Angeles.Comment by clicking here.


© 2002, Lewis A. Fein