After the gut-churning, asinine commercialism of the Christmas season (I mean, honestly, do we really need Klingon nutcrackers?), it's refreshing to note that Americans are, at heart, truly generous people.
For a society addicted to sitcoms and reality TV, the outpouring of charity in the wake of last week's Asian tsunami is a welcome sign that we're still tuned into the real world, still moved by our fellow man's pain.
Whether from a vestigial spirit of the holidays or a genuine spirit of humanity, gifts large and small have flowed to aid and relief organizations.
Perhaps it's empathy. With the memory of losing nearly 3,000 loved ones on Sept. 11, 2001, still fresh in our minds, we can scarcely imagine a death toll more than 40 times that number.
Whatever the reason, the "gimme" greediness of materialistic children and the mindless avarice of bored, well-fed adults have, for now, morphed into a sincere, large-scale desire to help those in dire need.
Teenagers in New York City worked through the night whipping up brownies and cookies for a tsunami-relief bake sale. Kids in Seattle sold hot chocolate. Students in Massachusetts collected coins for the American Red Cross.
A 75-year-old widow in Kentucky raised more than $7,000 by hosting a spontaneous New Year's Eve fund-raiser. Ohio first-grader Daniel Kushner raided his piggy bank of $10 in change. He gave the money to the Cincinnati chapter of the American Red Cross, which also received an anonymous check for $25,000.
Countless checks for $10 and $20 have been stroked by Americans of all income levels. Actress Sandra Bullock gave $1 million of her own money. As of Wednesday morning, the American Red Cross had received $103 million in pledges of assistance.
It's also heartening that America has come through on a national level. President Bush took some heat for not immediately commenting on the tragedy. But all those so quick to criticize should back off a bit.
OK, so maybe Bush should have faced the microphones earlier. But the president's actions in the tsunami's aftermath were a greater expression of our national sorrow than any words he might have uttered.
As Bush was meeting the press, the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, five ships from its carrier strike group, seven enormous supply ships and more than 2,000 Marines already were heading toward Southeast Asia.
Bush also raised the United States' pledge of $35 million in assistance to $350 million, money that does not include our military contribution to disaster efforts.
This is more than an act of national largesse. It's also a way to burnish our somewhat tarnished image, a smart move to win hearts and minds.
At a time when many in the Arab world believe America is at war with Islam, it's a way to show America putting her all into helping the world's most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia.
Bronwyn Lance Chester is a columnist for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.