Sunday, September 16, 2001

American help


The world has been watching

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        We do this routinely in America. Something terrible happens, we help. Our churches provide drop-off points for canned goods and clothing and blankets. Our experts dust off their passports and head for the trouble spots. Our doctors repair cleft palates in remote villages. Our missionaries teach children to read.

        We aren't choosy about location.

        It doesn't have to be on our own soil.

        An earthquake in Japan. The box brigade begins.

        A landslide in Peru. Machinery and people move south.

        Millions were collected in this country to help the victims of an earthquake in India earlier this year. I don't mean government money, foreign aid. I mean people here who donated cash.

Inevitable story

        In Cincinnati, LensCrafters has flown roughly a half-million pairs of glasses to 22 countries. Team members came back recently from Peru with the inevitable “best story.” One year it was a nearsighted schoolteacher in Mexico, who said he was grateful to be able to see his students for the first time. Before that, “I just got to know them by their voices,” he said.

        This time, it was a young boy waiting in line to get his eyes examined. In one hand, he held his patient card. In the other, he held a marble. He was using the reflecting light of the marble to make out the words on his card.

        He learned to read this way. The LensCrafters volunteers found a pair of glasses from among the thousands donated that fit his prescription.

        American glasses, donated by individual American people, perched on the end of noses all over the world.

        It couldn't be more personal.

        So now we could use a little help. Some support. Condolences.

        And I wonder if we'll get it.

        My college roommate, Karen, has lived in Brussels, Belgium, for the past 25 years. So, I called to see what she is hearing.

        “I felt lonely,” she says. “At first.” But a Turkish woman, someone she knew only slightly, made a sympathy call. “I will not soon forget,” the woman said, “the kindness of Americans when there was an earthquake in my country.”

Feeling the pain

        Cincinnati advertising executive Jerry Malsh, traveling in Europe, e-mails that, "Everyone is feeling our pain since everyone's feeling the same pain. Australian, Tasmanian, German, Italian, French. Everyone we've met."

        On Friday, people gathered at St. Paul's Church in London, where they sang the Star Spangled Banner. Considering the origin and circumstance of this song, I think this was a generous tribute.

        Canadian television commentator Gordon Sinclair called us “good neighbors” and “the most generous and possibly the least appreciated people on all the earth.”

        The following message was posted in a window in a little village in Italy: “We are by your side in this moment of tragedy. Feel our presence next to you against the barbarity, our solidarity toward the families of victims.”

        I saw the televised phone conversation between the president and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. President Bush congratulated the mayor for the extraordinary spirit of New Yorkers. “The strength and compassion of America is there for the world to see,” he said.

        It would be reassuring to believe that the world has noticed it many times before.

        E-mail Laura at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393.

       



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