Unsung Heroes

The recent “Frankenstorm” that hit the Northeast and left such devastation in its wake gives us pause. We can feel sympathy for the terrible losses in lives and property those people sustained and the suffering they continue to endure. But we can also marvel at the heroism of ordinary people who came together at such a time and exhibited true selflessness. It has been said before and it needs to be said again: the true heroes are the ones we hear very little about. They are the ones like the  medical personnel at New York University’s Langone Medical Center who acted quickly when the storm knocked out the power in their hospital, including the backup generator. They moved 300 patients, including a number “preemies” whose lives depended on the fluids being pumped into their tiny bodies from equipment driven by the electrical impulses that suddenly stopped. None of the lives was lost, due to the determined and selfless actions of a group of people who quietly save lives every day. And there are the dozens of volunteers who are currently taking meals door to door to senior citizens trapped in their apartments on Staten Island where things are growing more tense with each passing day. There are countless more people whom we will never read or hear about who came forward to help others during the storm and the aftermath.

But there are also small stories we hear about that did not emerge from the hurricane  — like the high school football team in Queen Creek, Arizona who befriended a 16 year-old girl who was subjected to such bullying that she went home each day in tears. As we are told in a brief Huffington Post story:

Players including the star quarterback have rallied behind Chy Johnson, a 16-year-old special needs student who was tormented by kids at school, reports 3TV News and azfamily.com.

The players now eat with her at lunch and watch her back.

Chy is now a happy kid who looks forward to school each day even more than she used to fear it. I like to think I am a realist. But my world view borders on cynicism when it comes to the stupidity I see in my fellow humans each day. I have voiced my feelings on numerous occasions in these blogs. I mean, really, how can this presidential race even be close, for Pete’s sake? And why on earth are we still discussing global warming while the Midwest suffers from serious drought, freakish storms tear apart lives in the Northeast, and the oceans rise as the ice caps continue to melt? But there comes a time when one must acknowledge that there is good in most of us. We just seem to be unable to bring it to the light much of the time. It takes a crisis such as a major storm or the repeated bullying of an innocent young girl whose plight suddenly is seen as unacceptable by a group of her fellow students.

The interesting question is why it takes extraordinary events or situations to bring out the best in each of us. Given the widespread need of hundreds of thousands of people on this planet every day, why do we wait until pushed to the extreme before we allow ourselves to feel sympathy for our fellow humans and take action? These questions will continue to nag at me; but I give thanks that there are a great many people who are compassionate and capable of selfless acts. These are the true heroes and they give us hope.

5 thoughts on “Unsung Heroes

  1. Indeed, in demonstrating our humanity, we pluck a string in the minds of others, and subsequently, knowing of these acts or even witnessing them, the rest of us will follow in kind.
    Every day is an opportunity to be selfless and the answer is simple – look in the mirror. Each person, given the absence of extreme turmoil, can do one good deed or act, every day.
    What a wonderful world it would be.
    I’m still haunted by the story of the woman who went door to door, during a flash flood, her two babies in the car, knocking, knocking, for help and having the door shut in her face repeatedly. Those that shut her out have a black spot on their hearts. The children were drowned, washed away in the powerful flash flood. 😦

    • Yes. And there is the terrible story of the Kew Gardens rape years ago when the young woman was cryig for help and people heard her and didn’t even bother to pick up the phone. One can find good and bad in most of us.


  2. Thanks, Hugh, for those uplifting stories. The question is one that has bothered me a lot, too, through the years. In my years as a journalist, I covered or directed coverage of a lot of natural disasters and other major tragedies — it was amazing how so many people stepped to the fore to do things they would not otherwise do to help their fellow human beings. That old line: the worst of times brings out the best in us. Part of it is the immediacy, I think: the tragedy is right in front of us. And in natural disasters, like a flood or hurricane, we often are victims ourselves, so we share in the plight of those we are helping. The homeless, the hungry, war refugees, starving villages in Africa are often far away or not regularly part of the lives of many of us — yet they are no less humanitarian crises than victims of a hurricane or tornado. Indeed, more lives are wiped away in a day in Syria than in all of our hurricanes the past year. But the gun shots of Syria do not wake us from our sleep at night the way a tree falling into a neighbor’s house does.

    I am reading a short biography on Churchill right now. He had a lot of genius and a lot of flaw, but during and after World War I he often talked about how it would be good for the progress of humanity to be in a constant state of war — it’s crazy, but his rationalization was that it kept our minds focused and brought out the best in us, too: it’s when the most innovations are created, from technology to medicine, it’s when we are the most united as community and nation, rising to one another’s defense, etc. More or less the storm-response mentality. Yeah, except the next war, Mr. Churchill, killed 51 million.

    It would be nice if we had that look-out-for-our-neighbors mentality every day. It should not take a hurricane or 9/11 to make us set aside politics, race, religion but sadly, it usually does. Granted there are many who do good work for the sake of others every day — social workers, relief workers, etc. But not the average person. We could use Churchill’s focus, but without the war.

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