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Jewish World Review Sept. 25, 2001 / 8 Tishrei, 5762

Phil Perrier

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What's important -- IN 1995,while Americans obsessed over the O.J. Simpson trial, Timothy McVeigh bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing nearly 200 people. The image of a fireman carrying a dying baby from the rubble quickly slapped us into reality.

Since the end of the Cold War, we have increasingly been a culture with our eye on the small picture. Most recently Gary Condit has been the center of our universe; we spent the better part of two years fascinated by Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky. During the Lewinsky scandal Europeans could not fathom our preoccupation. But then, in Europe periodic terrorist attacks serve as constant reminders of how fragile human life is.

Since September, 11, America has changed forever and for the better. We have drawn together unlike any time since the attack on Pearl Harbor; people are calling relatives just to say "I love you." People are calling old friends, ex-spouses, class mates coworkers, just to hear their voices, to know they are okay.

Long forgotten "thanks you's," and "I'm sorry's," are being said.

It is said that G-d does not close one door without opening another. There is an almost instinctive need for humans to create something good out of something terrible. That has happened. We are a better people than we were before September, 11th.

After paying an awful price, we are a kinder, wiser, more giving society. A nation obsessed with "me" has become much more concerned with our neighbor. People are giving blood, donating money, time and attention. We are regaining a sense of community that has been slowly slipping away since the end of World War II.

Last night, I went to my friend Eric's house. Eric and I sang Beatles songs, badly and unselfconsciously, while our friend Geoff played his guitar. No TV, no computer, no radio, just three guys singing and talking. I tried to remember when I had last done such a thing. Then I realized I never had.

The last three songs we sang were The Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful and G-d Bless America. We did not plan to sing them, we just did -- completely straight -- with tears in our eyes. When we finished we all admitted that we had never sung those songs without a sporting event being involved.

Finally, at some level, we understood what all those misty eyed World War II veterans felt when they sang those songs. Only when our country is attacked can we fully appreciate all that it means to us. The best tribute we could give to the victims of the attacks is for us to hold on to this feeling of community. We each have to choose to maintain it in our lives, not let it go, not revert to shallowness and selfishness. We need to keep giving blood, keep waving the flag and keep helping those who need it the most.

We cannot squander this gift, it cost too much.

JWR contributor Phil Perrier is a Los Angeles-based writer and stand-up comic. Comment by clicking here.


09/20/01: A sleeping giant awakes

© 2001, Phil Perrier