Jewish World Review Sept. 14, 2001 /25 Elul, 5761

Paul Greenberg

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The good amid the wreckage -- YES, the evidence of Evil was all around Tuesday, but so was evidence of the Good. We need to remember that. We need to remember the cops, the firefighters, the doctors and nurses and volunteers and, yes, the talking heads holding the country together -- as they always do at our gravest moments.

We need to remember the leaders who spoke calmly, the public servants who did their job without a hint of grandstanding, the people waiting in line to give blood. In some places the line stretched around the block.

If war is hell, and this is war of a different and hellish kind, it also brings out the best in the best of us. It certainly brought out the best in Rudy Giuliani, New York's usually volatile, impulsive and often enough embarrassing mayor. His performance this awful day brought to mind why he has been so effective and popular. Like every other New Yorker, he seemed intent only on doing his duty. We have privately resolved never again to use the term New Yorker slightly.

This week the fine phrases about those who sacrifice themselves for others took on blood and flesh: Hundreds of New York firefighters were reported dead in the line of duty. Other New Yorkers, who would happily trample their fellow man on an ordinary day, were rushing to help however they could. Watching the images come across the scene, we thought of the London blitz -- not just the destruction, but the invincible spirit of the people. These were not just victims we were seeing, but fighters.

Again and again the networks showed the same pictures in a kind of endless loop of shock. The images of buildings aflame were terrible, searing, incredible, something out of The Day The World Ended. And they kept coming. Again and again we saw the twin towers attacked, aflame, aground. We knew what would happen each time but couldn't tear our eyes away. The pictures had the same fatal fascination as the Zapruder film. This time the symbols of a whole nation -- the World Trade Center, the Pentagon -- were in the assassin's sites.

But there were other pictures, too. There were images of people helping one another down the crowded streets, directing traffic, searching for those in the rubble. Some of those who'd made it out of the inferno were trying to get back in -- to help others. Not wise, but instinctive, and unselfish. If evil was on display, so was good.

Of all the scenes hurtling across the fragmented screen, one stays in the mind:

Outside a hospital emergency room in Washington, one ambulance after another drove up to be met with one well-prepared team after another of medical personnel. The nurses, the doctors, the emergency technicians, the stretcher bearers, the volunteers came in all colors -- black, white, Hispanic, Asian. They could have been Jew or Christian, Muslim or Buddhist, or None of the Above. It didn't matter. All were only one color now: hospital green.

There was no thought of the stupid divisions and irrelevant drivel talked about race and ethnicity on other days. There was a job to be done. There were people to be taken care of. It was E Pluribus Unum time -- from out of many, one. They were a team.

One after another, the stretchers were unloaded swiftly, professionally, smoothly, carefully. With all deliberate speed. As if this were just another mock disaster, another training exercise. You could tell these people were ready. They all looked different, but they all acted as one. The pictures of destruction may always haunt; the pictures of rescue will comfort. The differences between the rescuers were only skin deep; it was how they acted, the grace they showed under pressure, that counted.

I hope I remember that scene outside the emergency room the next time some troublemaker tries to divide us, or some idiot makes a snide remark about any of our fellow Americans, or even casts an ugly look in their direction. And that we'll remember to say: Watch it, bub, those are my people you're talking about: Americans.

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