©1999 - 2013
Edward D. Reuss
All rights reserved. Including the right of reproduction in whole or part in any form


Since 1982, Gina Gallo was a Chicago cop both in uniform and plainclothes, working the city’s toughest West Side streets.  After a duty disability forced her to leave the job, she began writing professionally and is currently at work on her fourth book.


“Finding Grace”

It's the last thing you'd expect to find in Sin City. At first glance, it looks  like any other night on the strip. Surging along Las Vegas Boulevard, the usual raucous crowd of tourists, gamblers, and assorted others have come to relax, kick back and party with a vengeance.  The noise seems endless here, a cacophony of sounds, shouts and blaring traffic that echo along this glitzy stretch. But near  the intersection of Tropicana Boulevard the din subsides, fading to a reverent hush.

It's the New York New York Hotel and Casino, where a 150-foot model of the Statue of Liberty stands guard over the mock New York Harbor, complete with water-spraying FDNY fireboats and a NYPD marine unit.  It's here that people pause to stare, to remember, and  to say a prayer at  what's become one of the biggest 9/11 shrines in the country. It began as an impromptu gesture of support and gratitude by visiting firefighters. After scrawling messages on their own department T-shirts, they draped them carefully on the short iron fence that surrounds the harbor. Soon other firefighters and police officers joined in, either bringing or mailing similar uniform shirts, badges, emblems and hats to add to the shrine. Every contribution bore a written message - some long and detailed, others merely a signature - but all expressed heartfelt emotion. Hotel management reports that, in a year's time, contributions to the shrine now number in the thousands. Pictures, tokens and other memorabilia grace the fence along with the T-shirts, the messages and  and the tears of a nation brought together by heartbreak and resolve. Only a few yards distance separates the casino from what's become a street cathedral.

There among the bars and shows and tipsy revelers is a place that demands reverence.

It's where we recall our past, remember our fallen and pray for our future.

We lost our innocence a year ago. On September 11, an aerial Armageddon shattered our "can't happen here" illusions, replaced that vanquished innocence with a sense of  fearful vulnerability sealed with our blood. The greatest tragedy ever to occur on American soil was broadcast nationally, in living and dying color that left no doubt.  Not only had  the unthinkable happened here, but it can again, we realized. And as fear gave way to panic, the seemingly impossible happened.

Mustering all of its strength and even more resolve, America under siege became America united. No longer just united states, we became a unified family. Disparate groups and  separate social classes came together  to bear our burden of grief as well as the daunting task of recovery. But even then, there were the critics. Some raised a skeptical brow at what they called a  knee-jerk rash of patriotism, claiming it wouldn't last. Others pointed to the sordid examples of opportunism in the wake of tragedy -  looting at Ground Zero, fraudulent 9/11 charity groups, money and photo scams that circulated via the internet. And when people began to whine about the dollar amount of 9/11 victim's  benefits, they predicted a return to what had been before. Altruism lasts only so long, doesn't it?

In one short year, we've learned the answer. For each of those skeptics, a hundred more people stepped forward, speaking eloquently through action.   It wasn't only at Ground Zero that volunteers joined in to salvage the American spirit. There were rescue efforts that went far beyond the simple act of collecting money or donating time or items to the victims' cause. But in order to see the bigger picture,   look past the Old Glory lapel pins that seemed to blossom overnight, or the suction-cupped American flags that became the hot  auto accessory this year. It's not about money or flags or trendy fads.

In one year we lost our innocence, acknowledged our vulnerability, and - finally - came to appreciate our diversity as strength. Arms that once raised in protest now reach out in a show of support, ready to prop up those who waver, or those still trying to find their way. Opinions  once divergent now agree on what matters most. We are a family united, bound by respect, nurtured by positive action.   A concept that gets lost in the shuffle, most of the time, as  we each rush through our busy lives.  But it happens, occasionally - an impromptu occurrence that reminds  us of who we are and where we've been....and how we got this far. It's there that we find grace.

Like the Iowa Sunday School class that shipped bushels of apples to our ground troops about to be deployed to Afghanistan.

"American as Apple Pie," their letter said. "Thank you for protecting our freedom."

Or like the senior citizens home that sponsored a "Hugs and Stitches" day.

Provided with knitting needles and skeins of yarn, the seniors made sweaters and scarves for the 9/11 cause.   In that moment, the elderly became the elders.  In the handwritten  messages that accompanied their gifts, they sent wishes for  strength and hope and courage. Running a shriveled finger over the numbers tattooed on her upper arm, one white-haired  lady wrote simply, "You have to have faith. You must endure."

Or like the neon-washed strip of Las Vegas where liquor and lust speak as boldly

as the rolling dice. What began as a gesture of gratitude and respect has provided Babylon with a street-corner basilica. A place where we honor our heroes, recall  how they led us through the darkness ...and showed us how to walk together into the light.

Copyright 2001 by Gina Gallo



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