THIS MONTHS STORY:
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?
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
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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