Commonplace Courage

Washington was blanketed in snow that day, three inches on the ground and more falling fast as I walked to the magazine office about noon. People were friendlier than usual on the street, bound together in celebration of a rare touch of winter beauty for this city.

An elderly woman on Eleventh Street was shoveling her small patch of sidewalk. "You're doing a great job," I told her, "but I'm afraid you'll have to do again."

"Oh, I've been out here about once every hour since early morning. I can't leave it when it gets over an inch. Gotta think of other people on a day like this. Don't want anybody falling down. Gotta think of the children."

I spent most of the afternoon thinking of the children. Most decided to forego the usual walk home for lunch and stayed in their schoolyards throwing snow at one another. Snow families with gravel eyes popped up in the corners of the playgrounds. It was a snow festival.

Then the incredible tragedy struck. We first heard the sirens up and down Fourteenth Street, just half a block away from the office, and the helicoptors overhead. We turned on radios and got the news of the plane that had rammed into the Fourteenth Street Bridge and plunged into the icy Potomac.

A derailed subway under the Smithsonian injured several people and killed three more just half an hour after the plane disaster. Rescue personnel and vehicles were at a premium, most having already been called to the Fourteenth Street Bridge scene.

Traffic was at a standstill in the air, on the ground, and under. Ambulances were seen desperately trying to get through to the injured, one rerouting itself over the White House's sidewalk. Phone calls around our community sought the whereabouts of community members who had left the office two hours before.

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