“These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of men and women.”

Thomas Paine, The Crisis, 1776.

Like most Americans in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, I felt useless.

If I were 22 instead of 52 I think I would have gotten to a recruiter's office posthaste and enlisted in whatever branch of the service was hiring that day. I'm still angry enough to do that but, with joints that rarely do what I tell them and eyesight that's nowhere near good enough to be much of a sharpshooter, I'd probably be of little use.

I wish I could lift pieces of concrete, cut through beams of steel, dig into the rubble and help with what has become a desperate hope against hope search for anyone who could have survived that horror. I want to sweat; I want my joints to ache, and I want to help.

I want to do something and have done nothing but talk and pray and make a paltry donation. I'll give blood, when I can reserve a time with the local Red Cross and when my wife is available to drive me home when I pass out afterward as I always do. But I can stand that.

I can stand a lot after watching innocent people slaughtered by evil men who have no feeling for the wonder and the sanctity of life. When television news agencies flashed the names of some of the people killed in the airlines I saw names and ages. Some were as young as three.

I wept. What kind of monster could kill a child just because it lives in the United States? What sort of warped mind could wantonly kill thousands of people who had performed no worse transgression than to have gone to work? It is incomprehensible.

I told my wife, Pat, how frustrated I was that I could do so little when the country needed so much.

“Write about it,” she said.

I can do that, certainly not as well as I would like to, but I've made a living writing for more than 25 years and, in that time perhaps I've helped someone do his or her job a little better. Perhaps I've passed on information that helped a farmer save a few dollars or change some practice that improved his farm. It's hard to know.

I do know that agriculture has been the backbone of this country since it was founded. And I am proud to be a part of that. We have always been able to feed ourselves. That ability may be taxed to the limits in the months, perhaps years, ahead as we hunker down to fight this unimaginable evil.

And I've come to the realization that I, like most normal American citizens, can serve best by doing what we always do, get back to work, improve efficiency as best we can, pay our taxes without grumbling and try to cough up a little extra to support relief efforts.

We can encourage our government to do whatever is necessary to keep the economy strong and to keep jobs on American soil. We can encourage industry to bring factories back in country to preserve local economies.

And we can fight evil in whatever way we find. Obviously, the first targets are the diabolical men who planned, funded and supported the Sept. 11 attack. But the fight has to extend to anyone who would bomb a church because the worshippers happen to be a different color; it has to extend to anyone who would throw stones at school girls whose only sin was to be of a different religion; and it has to extend to our own misguided citizens who retaliate against someone just because they are of Arab descent.

We can't tolerate evil from within anymore than we can from without.

Thomas Paine knew in 1776 that victory would not be easy. Nor will it more than 200 years later. But it's time to get to work to make certain that September 11 never happens again.

rsmith@primediabusiness.com