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Everything pales when compared to American spirit

A family of four - mom, dad and two children under 8 years of age

- was coming back from their safe haven from Hurricane Katrina in Miami.

They wanted to see the damage to their home and see if they could return to home. What they found was total devastation, everything gone, all was lost.

They were now another statistic of Katrina, survivors, but displaced not only for this week, but for perhaps, months. Their only good fortune: That their lives were spared, their family was intact. Others were not so fortunate.

But this family had just begun understanding the real and incredible impact of Katrina. While heading back, away from the damage, away from home, they had a flat tire.

In the new world created within the sphere of Katrina, a simple flat tire posed serious survival problems. They lost a day, unable to get the tire repaired, until, the next morning, when a CVS employee gave them his tire-filler canister.

With the tire repaired, they then concentrated on finding gas to get out of the hurricane damaged community. But, like tires, in this world, gas was not a problem that could easily be solved.

The solution came from a stranger who had a five gallon can of gasoline he had kept for himself, a thoughtful planner protecting his ability to get around after a hurricane. He gave them his gas, at no charge, to allow the family to get out and return to civilization.

Neither the children nor the parents had eaten any food in the last 24 hours. Like so many, more than had been counted, they experienced the lack of the most basic of needs being met: Food, shelter and all the services we have come to depend upon. They slept in their car, no rooms were available at any price.

Thanks to the help of two strangers, this family headed to safety. Two nameless men who put their own security at risk to help a family they didn't even know.

The great character of Americans always shines through when we are in crisis. In the weeks ahead many will give their time, their energy, their money, all to help people they don't even know. Most won't want credit for their help, most won't want even to be remembered.

Let this occasion, the terrible loss of lives, and the beginning of recovery, remind all Americans that we are a country with a history of giving, a history of helping.

When our better natures triumph, we want to help where we can. Whether the help is in our own community, our nation, or the world, we want to be there to help.

In the last few years we have turned away from this American spirit, cutting programs that help our poorest families, cutting foreign aid to a lower percent of GDP than almost any other industrialized nation and risking the social safety nets we had made for each other over the past decades.

This week, Americans will help their fellow citizens regardless of skin color, ethnicity or economic status.

This week, Americans will reach out, as two strangers did to a family they didn't even know, to help others in need.

Let's re-capture that spirit beyond Katrina and the recovery about to begin. Let's offer our help to those without food, without shelter, without hope, even if those who don't live their lives as we would want them to.

Let's embrace again the deep and rich nature of Americans, both today and tomorrow.

Dr. Jim Crawford is an adminstrator at Ohio University Southern. He can be reached at drjim893@msn.com.