Scottsdale high school teacher Steve Speisman was shopping at his neighborhood Safeway store one night last week when he spotted a sign above the customer service counter.
It stated that donations were being collected to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
"People were waiting in line to give money," he said. "This is the soul of America, man. And that was the same soul that was there on Sept. 11."
Speisman came to recognize that soul following the death of his younger brother, Bob, who was aboard one of the passenger jets that terrorists commandeered during the attacks four years ago today.
Americans are more compassionate, more generous and stronger than they were in 2001, Speisman said.
The people in line at Safeway were just a few among many. Like-minded people in cities across the country have welcomed Gulf Coast residents displaced by the hurricane.
"The bottom line is the American people are speaking," said Speisman, a specialeducation teacher. "Americans are standing up and saying, ‘Hey, man, you can’t just push us over. We’re America."
Speisman, 54, wrote a short story about his brother and how he dealt with loss for the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" book series. They grew up in the Queens section of New York. The two shared a bedroom and nearly everything else in those days.
During the years, Speisman moved to Scottsdale and his brother became a jewelry executive and moved to Irvington, N.Y. But they spoke by phone frequently.
They talked and joked about their families, jobs, movies, sports and Bob Dylan, their favorite singer. The last time they got together was on Speisman’s 50th birthday. Bob was in Phoenix for a gem show. They had dinner and hung out at the resort where Bob was staying.
Bob boasted that either the New York Mets or the New York Yankees were certain to knock off the Arizona Diamondbacks in the coming 2001 baseball playoffs. Speisman countered that Arizona’s team would handle all comers.
Bob was dead before the Yanks and D-Backs met in the World Series. He was 48 when terrorists commandeered Flight 77 from Washington and crashed into the Pentagon.
Bob had been in the capital to visit his daughter, Tara, and Speisman’s daughter Julie, who were in college and law school. From Washington, he was headed to the West Coast. He originally had planned to leave Washington on Sept. 10, but extended his stay an extra day.
Speisman learned about the attacks when he was at school in Scottsdale. He immediately was concerned about their daughters. Finally, he received a call from Julie, who said she was OK.
"I felt elated. Then the next sentence was, ‘Dad, sit down. Uncle Bobby’s dead.’ I just went into the Twilight Zone, you know. Left school. Came home. Sat down. Put the TV on, and it wasn’t until I saw his name on the passenger list scrolling across the TV that it really freaked me," he said.
But the unexpected pride and generosity of people across the country helped him restore his composure.
Four years later, the beautiful repercussions of Sept. 11 are on display again. Americans have learned how to respond to tragedy. They’re showing it at the front counter at Safeway.
MESA: Boy Scouts will launch a "Patriots Day Commemoration’’ with a 100-flag procession at 7:30 p.m. at Valencia Park, 634 N. Quail Circle. Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Rep. Chuck Grey, R-Mesa, will speak, and the Arizona Mormon Choir and Orchestra will perform. For information, call (480) 985-5899.
GILBERT: Gilbert will hold a memorial service at 8 a.m. at the flagpole in front of the Gilbert Public Safety Complex, 75 E. Civic Center Drive. For information call (480) 503-6766.
TEMPE: A Community Observance and Remembrance Ceremony begins 6:45 a.m. at Fire Station 1, 1450 E. Apache Blvd. The names of firefighters, police officers and port authority personnel lost will be read aloud. For information call (480) 350-8906.
CHANDLER: American Legion Post 35 and its auxiliary invite the community to attend a Patriots Day program at 7:15 p.m. at the post garden, 2240 W. Chandler Blvd. For information, call (480) 963-1843.