The Spirit of a People

In this national tragedy, as they have in others, Americans are showing a profound readiness to work cooperatively to heal the wounds. Accounts from New York, and from Washington, tell of individuals going to extraordinary lengths to help others.

Two men in New York carried a woman in a wheelchair down some 63 floors to safety. Many opened their homes to the stranded.

People distant from the East Coast scenes of disaster are reaching out in whatever ways they can to comfort the bereaved, donate services or blood, and embrace their fellow citizens in prayers for protection and comfort.

Indeed, thousands are now holding to words such as these from Psalms in the Bible: "Be merciful unto me, O God, ... in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast."

The need for calm and civility will only grow in the next few days. The comforting of grieving families will be paramount. Those doing the grueling work of cleaning up, finding victims, and rebuilding will need added support. Also crucial: Anger at these events must not turn toward threats against Americans who share an ethnic or religious background with suspected terrorists.

The role of political leaders is essential at this time, setting a standard for civility and courage that others can follow. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York made a telling point when he noted that while his city had lost a physical symbol of its vitality, the real symbol of New York was the spirit of its amazingly diverse people.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "This is not a battle between the United States of America and terrorism, but between the free and democratic world and terrorism."

If the horrible events of this week serve to spark a wider spirit of community, reaching out in solidarity with freedom- and peace-loving people everywhere, America's ability to be a force for good in the world can only increase.

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