No Small Thing

People everywhere seem moved to do something - anything - to show unity in these times.

September 22, 2001|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

The sum is greater than its parts. Every day, people continue to make personal gestures to express their feelings about last Tuesday's terrorist attacks. If people are feeling inconsequential or small, no gesture seems inconsequential or small. Collecting pennies is a rich contribution. Buying a new car appears as a defiant and patriotic gesture.

No one is calling anything corny. Children and adults are writing poems. An 83-year-old man and Navy veteran vented his sorrow by painting a picture of an American bald eagle. Children are asking their orthodontists for red, white and blue bands for their braces. Adults are having U.S. flags and eagles tattooed to their arms, backs and necks. A firefighter in White Hall installs a full-sized flag pole in his yard.

People are stowing their politics - for the time being. Cynicism has been momentarily waived, and people are taking a pass on passing judgment. Businesses are giving people a break. People are giving each other a break. A cursory "How are you?" has become a weightier and more intimate question.

Here is the week in gestures:

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Owings Mills, a young mother greeting guests arriving for her daughters' birthday party started by apologizing and explaining. The weekend before, her kids had been outside drawing with sidewalk chalk, and had scribbled images of airplanes. "It was before all that happened," Kathe Murphy said a bit frantically. "I hoped the rain would wash it away."

They got their picture in the paper earlier this week, front page of The Sun. That's a first for the William S. Baer School, a school in Baltimore for children with multiple disabilities. The red line on the school's main floor - used to direct wheelchairs - was dotted with pennies by the children and school staff. By week's end, they counted up the pennies - more than $500 worth for the Red Cross.

Historian Taylor Branch went to his neighborhood hardware store in Mount Washington this week. Just a routine visit. At check-out, he thought he had said "hello" to the man behind the counter. Or maybe it was your standard "how are you" question, Branch wondered later. Just routine conversation.

"You're the fourth person to say that to me," the man said.

"Say what to you?" Branch asked.

"You're the fourth person to ask me how am I holding up."

Without realizing it, Branch had asked the hardware man how he was holding up. A simple hello hadn't been enough.

They didn't have flags on Tuesday, but they passed out red, white and blue ribbons to customers at Frank's Nursery and Crafts in Towson. One employee made 400 ribbons and handed out every one. "It's just a small gesture, but it makes people feel good," said employee Bridgett McKenna, 20.

A friend's brother sent the following e-mail:

"The opportunity to do good is right in front of your face all the time - especially now. Use this horrible tragedy as a wake up call to do your part, and get in the habit of doing the right thing. The agencies and organizations that need money, food, clothing, blood, will accept it from you all the time. So give it."

A soccer mom in Timonium took a second look at her Toyota Sienna minivan with the Gore/Lieberman 2000 bumper sticker still magnetized to the hatch. Party loyalty almost seemed disloyal this week. The woman removed the sticker.

"Dear Mr. Marimow, I am 14 years old, if you print my poem, would you let me know please?," said the letter from Max Carraway of Baltimore to the editor of The Sun, William K. Marimow:

Two commercial planes hit the Twin Towers,

Raining death, steel and concrete showers.

Texan in office, the giant awakens,

Outraged Americans, arms are taken.

Now let me contemplate after I graduate,

Enlist, or sit and procrastinate.

Do it for the country and the Pride,

For the innocent ones who have died ...

Norman Brown, a steelworker at Beth Steel in Baltimore, felt compelled to write a poem in hopes of "encouraging the American people." Brown's poem, Triumph Over Terror, includes the lines: "I felt like I was falling when I watched the people jump ... My heart went out to them as it seemed I fell with the building."

No courtesy is trivial. A sign inside Jos. A. Bank Clothiers on East Pratt Street reads: "To assist customers involved in events related to our national tragedy, any trouser hemmed while you wait during tailor hours. Other alterations given top priority on request."

Police officers and firefighters helping with rescue efforts in New York and Washington can ride free on MARC trains until Sept. 30. No tickets are required for firefighters and police officers displaying their badges or other credentials, said the Maryland Transit Administration.

During her National Public Radio program earlier this week, talk show host Diane Rehm said that in a proud show of consumer confidence, she bought a new car last Saturday on her 65th birthday.

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