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What's a tribute?

There are red-white-and blue-frosted cookie towers, T-shirts that say, "Our world will never be the same," and faux bronze key chains etched, "Never forget."

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | September 11, 2004

There are red-white-and blue-frosted cookie towers, T-shirts that say, "Our world will never be the same," and faux bronze key chains etched, "We will never forget."

For the past three years, on U.S. Route 29, some 40 miles north of Washington, D.C., someone has stuck red, white and blue plastic cups in the holes of a chain-link fence that screens a bridge over the highway. Some weeks the message reads, "We will remember," sometimes simply, "USA."

What's a tribute anyway? There are hymns, prayers and memorial Web sites. According to the White House, today is Patriot Day, a national holiday. It's red, white and blue.

And then there's the other government-created color scheme: code yellow, code orange, code red - a system that leading sociologists have agreed was apparently designed without human beings in mind.

Lee Clarke, a Rutgers University sociologist who studies disasters and worst-case scenarios, has said he "looked long and hard...at Department of Homeland Security documents on prevention, response and countermeasures. I've looked for some mention of the public. There's little recognition of the role of everyday people in disaster preparation and response - families, schools, church groups, people at their workplaces."

What about the everyday people? What are they doing three years later?

At least 5,000 each week in the summer months visit Shankville, the 240-person Pennsylvania town where Flight 93 crashed. It used to be an "everyday" town.

If, as Clarke has also said, "it has become cliché to ask what we have learned from 9/11," what's next?

For disaster responders who - along with journalists - sometimes compare disasters, there will never be another 9/11.

Yet this week, press releases sent by at least four major relief organizations responding in Florida this week sport catchy, capital-letter headlines that say something like: "Biggest response since 9/11."

In Sterling, Va. - some 30 miles from where a plane crashed into the Pentagon - there is a Peace Banquet today that nobody would ever call "the biggest response." Muslims, Christians and Sikh faith members are gathering in remembrance of the attacks.

But multiply that by 100 - by 1,000 - because tributes like that are happening across the nation in everyday neighborhoods with everyday people.

There are an estimated 120,000 Muslims in the D.C. metro area alone, and some seven million nationwide. Today, many of them are shoulder-to-shoulder with their Christian brothers and sisters.

Shirin Elkoshairi, who is helping to organize the Peace Banquet, reflected on the changes in his Muslim faith community in the past three years. "We never, ever condoned terrorist attacks or violence of any kind," he said. "But I do believe before 9/11, we were more insular. We didn't reach out as much to other faith groups. Now we do."

And in hurricane-wracked Florida, the Islamic Society of Central Florida is offering a simple Sept. 11 memorial luncheon. "As the tragedy of Sept. 11 represents the worst of humanity, the support we have received after the hurricane disasters represents the best of humanity," said spokesperson Areej Zufari.

His words aren't as catchy as "Biggest response since 9/11" - but perhaps, these days, the least dramatic response has become the most important.

The everyday response is now in the hands of families. Hearing the latest color-coded terror alert has become commonplace - but not for children, experts say.

Patrick Cody of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network said it's important - now more than ever - to consider the effects of terrorism on children nationwide. "For example, children in D.C., I am sure they're affected by the knowledge that D.C. is considered a target," he said. "For that matter - children everywhere."

And the everyday response is now in the hands of local churches that are helping people who are still suffering financially since 9/11.

In northern Virginia, Grace Ministries - funded in part by the United Methodist Committee on Relief - is offering financial aid, counseling, job training, and other help for many people who lost their jobs in the terrorist attacks, and are still struggling financially. "The events of Sept. 11, 2001 continue to influence attitudes toward the immigrants in our local community," reported the leaders of Grace Ministries, who receive little press but have helped hundreds of people.

In the wake of Sept. 11, Leonard Pitts, Jr. of the Miami Herald wrote on an online bulletin board: "It's my job to have something to say. They pay me to provide words that help make sense of that which troubles the American soul."

Three years later, the small responses don't always make the news - but they still say a whole lot.

Related Topics:

Motorcycle riders honor Flight 93

NJ interfaith group closes doors

Observing 9/11 by doing good deeds

More links on September 11 2001

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