Reflections on life
By Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD
Watching the evening news several days ago, I flashed a big smile when I saw more than 50 commuters in Perth, Australia, rush up and swarm a subway car. It took mere moments for the crowd to merge as one, slamming their bodies into the car and pushing it sideways with all their might, widening by just a smidgen the 2-inch gap between the platform and the subway coach.
A careless rider, who had stepped into the 2-inch crack in a distracted moment, could not extract his foot. While a car conductor waved frantically to the engineer not to start the car moving again, the coach did give way enough for the Good Samaritans to pull the errant foot out.
There is a wonderful side of us that drives us to the aid of people in distress such as the many New Orleanians trapped by the devastating water pouring through levees broken by the winds and waters of Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 29, 2005. Again, one had to smile, thrilling to the news that Good Samaritans in light and medium watercraft grabbed extra fuel and provisions and sped along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast up the Mississippi River to New Orleans.
As the waters receded, New Orleans native and Vietnam veteran Armand (Sheik) Richardson and the Arabi Wrecking Crew helped with the grassroots rebuilding, handling the demolition and/or mold cleaning of buildings for several years into the regional recovery.
It is always cheering and inspiring to see videos of the selfless, fearless, generous and sometimes daring assistance and rescues of people in wrecked vehicles along our roads, some even engulfed in flames. At times it is a lone individual dashing to the scene with bare hands or with a fire extinguisher, and at other times it is two or more forcing open the doors and defying the smoke and flames with little or no regard for their own safety and physical integrity.
In these times of widespread television and social media, it is amazing how often we view such daring and generosity while it is actually happening. We have reality TV at its best, chronicling stirring events that rise above the usual and the everyday, confirming the timeless adage, “truth is stranger than fiction.”
Every tornado, hurricane, earthquake, flood or widespread disaster presents us with an opportunity for altruism, bravery, generosity and daring to sally forth despite considerable and usually dangerous obstacles that block our path toward those in peril and need. It cheers our hearts that heroes and heroines abound and willingly make themselves available to everyone.
For many of us, the most resounding composite example of all this was 9/11 when all others were streaming down the stairs in sheer panic while 343 New York firefighters and 60 police were making their way up the stairs, ostensibly rushing to stare pain and death in the face.
Yet, with our great innate kindness, there is a loathsome side of us that we are reluctant to describe as our innate meanness, as witnessed by the crowd gathered in front of a tall building with a suicidal 17-year-old threatening to jump. Derby, England, was the venue in this particular case. However, similar episodes have occurred in countries all over the world.
“Jump! Jump! Jump!” urged some from a crowd of 300 gathered below. Can you imagine what this did to the spirit of Shaun Dykes, depressed by a recent relationship breakup and teetering atop the 6-story building? At length, driven by the taunting, he hurled himself down to immediate death on the unforgiving concrete.
An offensive penchant for evil rears its ugly head in looters like the Ferguson, Missouri, lot. Chaos is their name; anarchy is their shame; plunder is their blunder. Such looting follows hot in the wake of a storm or other disaster such as the Northeast blackout of Nov. 9, 1965, when widespread looting and other mischief hit some of the darkened sections of New York. An unspoken belief in all walks of life is that, unless someone sees you, you can get away with evil.
Truth to tell, each step of our life is a medieval morality play redux in which we freely choose which role we will take and live out for the moment. While most of our days, hours and minutes are humdrum and nothing to write home about, we do have a flashy moment here and there. It must be noted that those humdrum minutes, hours, days and years are the most critical times of our lives because they comprise by far the bulk of the time allotted to us here.
Hence, flashes of heroism are not the main menu, but only a special dish, the outgrowth of our character forged in the cauldron of dull, hard, tiresome, oft dreary hours, days and years far too numerous to count. With the forging of our character must come vibrant spirituality, our indispensable link with the eternal, transcendent Being on whom we claim to be all-dependent.
“God is love, and all who abide in love abide in God and God in them.” (1 John 4:16)
(Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, is pastor of Our Mother of Mercy Parish in Fort Worth, Texas. He has written “Reflections on Life since 1969.)