Giving & Living

‘I bring you good tidings of great joy . . . and on earth peace, good will toward men."

Luke's words seem strange this year. For Americans, it was a year in which more than 3,000 innocent human beings were slaughtered by other human beings. And yet the human spirit cannot be reduced to this single act of cruelty, or any other that has been committed over the ages. 

The yearning for peace and good will keeps manifesting itself, at unexpected times and places and in unexpected circumstances. 

Just six weeks ago, American Airlines Flight 587 crashed, missing by two houses my brother-in-law's home in Belle Harbor. All 255 passengers perished, as did five in a neighborhood I've come to love. I wrote a column that day about a place where so many neighbors had already suffered and died in the attack on the World Trade Center. 

Then something remarkable happened. From around the country, people responded to the suffering of other people. They wanted to help, to express their solidarity, to stand with those who were hurt for absolutely no good reason. 

From my hometown of Fall River, Mass., came a note from Matt Kuss. He wanted to raise scholarship money for the child of a firefighter killed in the Sept. 11 disaster. I took this offer to one of my brothers-in-law, Kevin Boyle, who lives in Rockaway. Kevin, in turn, took it to his firefighter friends. 

And then an equally remarkable thing happened. The firefighters, he reported, said that the children of people in the uniformed services who had perished on Sept. 11 were being taken care of. 

Better, they insisted, that the scholarship money go to others who had died in the attacks, and were not so well provided for. Thus was one act of generosity reciprocated by another. 

When I asked Kuss if I could mention his name, he said he didn't mind being mentioned, but that this wasn't his purpose. 

"Those with titles are our fallen brothers and sisters," Kuss wrote me back in an e-mail. "Policemen, firemen, civilians, pilots, preachers, they all share the same title in my heart, heroes. Whatever I can do to preserve their memories and the memories of their loved ones will be title enough for me." 

And then there was Joan McGraw from Lake Wylie, S.C. One day the mail brought a letter from her and a check for $1,000 made out to St. Francis de Sales Church in Belle Harbor. It's a great church in Rockaway whose pastor, Msgr. Martin Geraghty, I had quoted in the column about his neighborhood. 

"I am enclosing a check for you to please forward to Msgr. Geraghty," McGraw wrote. "We would like him to see that it is used for a family in his parish in need because of these tragedies." I'm sure Msgr. Geraghty will get the money to those who need it. 

In the wake of Sept. 11, much ink has been spilled about the new spirit of community and solidarity in our nation. Many who read newspapers and watch television are understandably skeptical of column writers, commentators and other assorted bloviators. They wonder whether all the grand theories that are propounded bear any relationship to reality. 

But the changes that have taken place in our country cannot be dismissed as part of some grand theory. I'd assert, from experience, that Americans have been touched, transformed, moved - and thus changed - by the events of the last three months. Many American families are suffering this holiday season because of their losses. May they feel at least a bit of comfort from the fact that so many other Americans experience their loss, too, and wish them peace in a spirit of good will. 

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