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Much can be made (and has been made, in these pages) of the harmful effects of American individualism, rugged and otherwise, particularly when placed at the service of blind pursuit of wealth and power. It is a force that splinters and fragments and has little time for such concepts as common good. I do believe, however, that there is a flip side to that American characteristic, a side that can place the enormous energy, confidence and can-do spirit required for rugged individualism at the service not of the self but of the wider community.

It takes a great deal of courage and determination to go into a war zone as unarmed civilians, as did several relatives of 9/11 victims to meet with victims of U.S. bombing in Afghanistan (see story page 14.) These are individualists willing to put themselves at risk in the single-minded pursuit of reconciliation and peace.

What’s the point?

I think that in recognizing, as one traveler put it, the “utter grief” felt by parents worldwide who lose children, they help carry all of us to a point of understanding that cannot be earned through bombing runs and political rhetoric.

Some would argue that these deep human connections were made possible only because of the military action taken by the United States. And I would say that to make that claim one would have to concede that history goes back only the distance of a few months. If we keep insisting that we can see only as far back as the last military operation, we are condemned to an endless seduction by violence.

This daring little band brings back to us a different angle on the war story, acknowledging complexity (one member reported being glad the Taliban has been banished yet horrified at the bombing deaths of children) while twinning it with a determination that no more killing be done in the name of loved ones lost in the Sept.11 attacks.

Meet Mimi, the most recent NCR mascot and a refugee from what has been characterized as the worst ice storm here in the history of weather records. The Kansas City metro area last week looked like some elaborate Steuben project, breathtakingly beautiful when the sun finally showed. But the price for the thick coating of ice that clamped the region was widespread destruction in the form of trees coming apart and extensive power outages. People coped in all sorts of ways. Mimi’s new family, associate business manager Marcia Baker, her husband, Gary, and their children, Corde, Kara, Paul and Macie, took refuge in a local hotel. Mimi was temporarily placed with layout editor Toni-Ann Ortiz, who brought her to work, where she romped between the second and third floors.

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, February 15, 2002