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Jewish World Review Sept. 21, 2001 / 4 Tishrei, 5762

Bob Greene

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The welcome return of a long-lost friend -- IF, at the onset of dark and awful times, there are occurrences that are genuinely heartening and good, that is by definition a victory.

So it has been in the long days since the morning of Sept. 11. Had, at daybreak on that Tuesday, you predicted the events of the hours ahead -- the hijacking of four airplanes carrying civilian passengers, the deliberate crashing into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the collapse into rubble of the two towers, the unfathomable scope of the deaths, and then, later, the acknowledgement of a state of war by the president of the United States….

Had you been able to predict all of that, the one thing you probably would not have been able to predict is that Americans would almost instantly emerge from the cruelty and the carnage somehow stronger than they had been the day before -- somehow feeling better about their country and about each other.

Yet it has happened -- and in the days since, the voices of everyday citizens have kept coming up with more inventive and inspiring proposals about what we should do next.

The reopening of the stock market, for example -- there was widespread fear, a fear that unfortunately was founded, that, because of what happened to us last week, the market would inevitably plunge, maybe wildly.

But what I heard before the market reopened was a proposed antidote -- not devised by financial analysts, but by American citizens who don't pretend to be economic experts.

Buy, they were saying -- even if you've never been a part of the stock market, even if the stock market is a complete mystery to you, invest for the sake of investing. If it's only $100, buy some stock in an American company. And buy it not because you hope to become wealthy, or even hope to get your money back -- buy it as a way of showing that you will not let the country tumble.

One person I heard from compared this to the so-called "angels" who back Broadway shows. They do it not because they are certain the shows will be hits; they do it because they love the idea of Broadway, they can afford the investments, and they enjoy being….

Well…being angels. If people with a lot of expendable money can do that for the sake of Broadway, why can't the rest of the country do it for the sake of the United States itself? What a signal -- to show the world no one can knock us out with the kind of sadistic sucker punch that was thrown on that September Tuesday. Going up to the ticket window -- even if we are novice bettors -- and putting a little money on our very favorite horse on the planet, acknowledging that we may never see the money again.

It's the same spirit behind the growing suggestion that any of us who can afford it should take those tax refund checks that President Bush arranged for us…and give the money back to the United States, to use in the relief efforts, and in the coming war of which the president speaks. Will the specific amount of refund money that taxpayers sign right back over to the U.S. government make a lasting fiscal difference in this new fight of ours? Maybe it will; maybe it won't.

But what a message -- to the rest of the world, and to ourselves. We would be proclaiming: Our government, before that Tuesday happened, gave us some of our money back and told us to spend it any way we want. Here's how we want to spend it: on our government. On our nation. On ourselves -- using a different sense of the word "self" than we have become accustomed to in recent years.

The American flags flying from homes and businesses since that Tuesday? Yes, they are symbols -- but don't call them merely symbols. They are a start -- there are many ways the country could have responded to what happened last week, and some of those ways might have shown that we felt weak, we felt scared, we felt scattered.

That hasn't happened. The opposite has happened. There have been a lot of times, in the last 20 years, that our country, as physically large as it is, has shown that it can make itself look small and petty.

Not this time. Not now. We are seeing greatness. It's nice to have it back -- the return of a long-lost friend.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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