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Heroes amongst us

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We live such affluent, comfortable lives that our hunger for heroes leads us to whomever the spotlight finds.

The rescue workers are more than just New York's finest, they are our country's.
Most frequently, we find athletes, merely because they can hit a fastball, dunk a basketball, throw a football or perform any other athletic feat beyond our ability. They make us feel so good on the field that we want them to make us feel good off the field, as well.

When we run out of athletes, we turn to celebrities. Princess Diana was royalty, and she seemed nice and caring, but most importantly, she was beautiful, and that was enough for most people to bury London under meter-high fields of bouquets on her death. You can bet there would have been no such outpouring of grief had she not been pretty.

We no longer have to strain for heroes, however. Their bodies are under the collapsed ruins of the World Trade Center. They are the firefighters and police officers who risked -- and ended -- their lives by entering those towers when they knew how dangerous the situation was. They are the passengers who apparently fought to take control of the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. They are the victims who gave their lives to save others.

There were many images and stories that we will never forget from Tuesday. The image of the planes crashing into the World Trade Centers will haunt us forever. But what struck me hardest, what made me want to cry longest, was the announcement that approximately 250 firefighters and police officers were missing and presumed dead.

The list of heroes grows each day as more risk their lives to try to save others.
It was crushing news, and the stories from the Pennsylvania flight, the tales of passengers voting to fight back against the terrorists, were equally inspiring and wrenching.

Friends and family members aside, we do not know what these people were like personally. Some of them were probably very good people. Some likely were less so. The majority were probably like most of us, a mixture of good intentions and silly weaknesses, selfish and generous, loving and uncaring, depending on the day and the situation. Average people, in other words.

But what are heroes but ordinary people doing extraordinary things under extraordinary circumstances? And that is what they were Tuesday.

The list of heroes grows as each rescue worker and volunteer braves the danger and arrives at the collapse site to offer a hand, to risk their own safety to rescue others. We are all hurt and angry and frightened, but these people are there representing the best of us. They are more than New York's finest, they are our country's.

And around the country, people are lining up to donate blood and money and offer a prayer or light a candle, to do something, to do anything. This isn't heroism; it's just simple human decency. It is people coming together for a greater cause than themselves.

Today is a national day of mourning. As we pause to grieve, let us also strive for a memorial that will last longer than cut flowers or hastily tied yellow ribbons or easily spoken chants of U-S-A, U-S-A. Let us do something that doesn't just remember the fallen, but honors them as well by continuing to donate blood, donate money and donate time -- by continuing to do something, anything that will make our communities stronger and better.

Hundreds of heroes died this week.

I'll be waiting for Elton John's song about them.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for

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