Lately, we've been flashing ID with abandon.

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Due to business and family matters, my husband and I have had to fly frequently since Sept. 11. Removing our wristwatches, belts and shoes has become almost commonplace. We don't seem to mind being presumed guilty until proven otherwise although I, admittedly, was a bit annoyed when a 370-pound male guard in a Montana airport rifled through my carefully-packed suitcase recently, becoming intimately acquainted with my personal belongings! To his credit, he didn't seem to like it either!

How amazing it is that some Islamic fundamentalist hiding in a Central Asian cave (and his compatriots) has impacted my life significantly in the little everyday details of life.

I'm a bit "tweaked" by that, and somewhat begrudge the loss of privacy and time at airports that he has caused.

A recent visit to "ground zero," however, has set my annoyance into proper perspective. Although annoyed, I am alive and well. I am saddened about our national grief.

Yet, I'm touched deeply by the wave of people caring for and about each other. Friends volunteering at "ground zero" took us through the warehouse where donations from across the country are stored. A rack of donated jackets are available to recovery workers facing an icy cold workday. Volunteers box toiletry supplies for firehouses throughout the city, to be distributed to firefighters' homes as needed. A nearby restaurant is dedicated to serving meals to recovery workers and those made homeless by the devastation.

Cheer and hard work are everywhere. Walls by the viewing platform are blanketed with notes of love and compassion, stuck between teddy bears and flowers. Those of us waiting in line speak in hushed tones, in many languages. German photographers jostle Hungarian tourists, as friendly police personnel herd us toward the platform for a brief and overwhelming view. The aphorism "seeing is believing" is shattered by the enormity of this event in which all is seen and yet nothing can be believed. Truly, the physical and emotional force of it all remains unbelievable!

I'm moved to include a piece I wrote years ago, in a more innocent time:

"The Flight to St. Louis"

"This plane envelopes us like some huge mechanical cocoon. And we enter it like so many tired butterflies, ready to be held and lifted up. In warmth, with a great thrust of power, we are lifted skyward.

I have perfect faith that we will soon be deposited safely in St. Louis, all reports of plane mishaps notwithstanding.

Through rote recitations by bored flight attendants, and through wild turbulence that would unnerve the faithless, I fly happily. I feel secure.

Now we are approaching St. Louis, with seat backs and tray tables stored in their upright positions.

The city greets us with thousands of dancing lights. Wet runways flash upward, beckoning us down.

We drop, with tires protesting our rough kiss with the tarmac.

As we brake with engines in reverse thrust, we glance about at each other warmly. Why so? Because we have a commonality now. We've all made it to St. Louis."

May we all "make it to St. Louis" in our future flights and endeavors. Maywe translate our loss of innocence into greater compassion for each other and efforts to become all that we can be.

Susan Paslov is a wife, mother and grandmother, who flies frequently "on a wing and a prayer."


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