Saturday, September 15, 2001

In 'Heartland'

We're more alike than different

        Reporters from a national magazine and a couple of out-of-town newspapers came here Friday. Other media, I'm told, were in touch with our mayor. And I've had calls from friends. They are wanting to know, they say, how we are feeling in the“heartland.”

        This is code.

        April and the rioting here makes us a news “angle.” I think they want to see if this country is truly united right now, “even in Cincinnati.”

        I hope they took very good notes and have footage of the prayer service on Fountain Square. I hope they caught the flags and the tears, the passion and the kindness. The unity.

        In the “heartland,” as everywhere else, our hearts are broken, but our spirit is not. We are Americans.

The human mosaic

        As our president asked us to do, we gathered to pray. Mayor Charlie Luken greeted the enormous and somber crowd at noontime on the square. He asked us to face the flag for the pledge of allegiance.

        A brief moment of confusion. Which flag to face? There were so many.

        “We come together at a place where Cincinnati often comes to celebrate . . . this day to mourn,” the mayor said. “Cincinnati,” he added, “like America, comes in all shapes and colors.”

        Then he introduced five clerics, pointedly beginning with a Muslim, who read from the first chapter of the Koran. He was followed by a Catholic, a Baptist, a Jew and an Episcopalian. Each was warmly and respectfully greeted.

        Each time, we were asked to close our eyes, I obeyed. And I prayed. I really did. But when I close my eyes these days, unbidden pictures replay themselves in that darkness. Too many indelible images to push away.

        The anguish of survivors carrying photographs.

        People standing in line to donate blood.

        People covered in blood.

        People covered in ash.

        The towers, for sure.

        Dogs sniffing the wreckage.

        Volunteers, preparing to climb the treacherous mountain of ash and steel, writing their names and Social Security numbers in magic marker on their arms and legs in case they, themselves, need to be identified later.

Stunning contrast

        In the “heartland,” as everywhere else in this country, this has scared us to death. We may be tearful, but we're not whining.

        Defiance. Patriotism. Anger. It is impossible to buy an American flag. Streamers and bunting dangle in downtown Covington. Little flags snap on car antennas. Pins. Bumper stickers. And it is certainly not all symbolic. At my favorite pony keg, you can purchase a cold six-pack of Bass Ale and put your change in a plastic bucket headed for New York's police and firefighters.

        Confronted with the stunning, genuine evil of Tuesday morning in New York City and Washington and Pennsylvania, our essential goodness is all the more pronounced. The hero of our last war, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, shook his head last week over the civilian loss of life. “That is the difference between those bastards and us,” said the Gulf War commander.

        Standing together in the noon sun, lightly sprayed by the water from our beloved fountain, we are fat and fit, suburban and urban, young and old,T-shirted and suited, black and white.

        Are we different from everybody else in this country? Of course not. In the most essential and important ways, we Americans are quite wonderfully the same.

       E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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