It was a headline that few Americans thought they would read when they unfolded their newspapers ... (last) Sunday morning: Nine Pennsylvania miners survive.
Sure, in their hearts people prayed, and they tried to keep hopes of a successful rescue alive, but people couldn't keep their minds from wandering into bleaker territory. No way those guys were coming out of that Black Wolf mine alive.
While in purely theological terms it would be a stretch to call it a miracle -- an event in the physical world that so totally deviates from known, natural behavior that a supernatural power must be involved -- you'd be hard pressed to convince the friends, families and coworkers of the men otherwise. Miner miracle, indeed.
It was yet one more story in a string of recent examples that showcase America's true strength -- this is a nation of common-man heroes, men and women who time after time rise to the occasion for the sake of strangers.
The police officers and firefighters who never thought twice about entering the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11. The smoke jumpers who drop into out-of-control infernos that are eating up hundreds of thousands of acres in the American West. The steelworkers who spent countless hours using cutting torches to peel back the twisted steel scars of the worst attack on American soil. The surveyors and drillers who played a potentially deadly game of beat the clock to release those miners from their dark chamber 240 feet below the Pennsylvania countryside.
What Alexis de Tocqueville saw in the American people during his nine months of traveling the United States back in 1831 is still here: The success of America is due to Americans themselves. The French aristocrat who penned one of the definitive works on this country, "Democracy in America," recognized our distinctive trait of pulling together to solve real problems.
This may be a nation of excesses in many ways -- from corporate greed and physical obesity to materialism and a fixation with the superficial -- but it is also a nation with a sense of volunteerism and philanthropy that is mirrored no place else on Earth.
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