Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Fred Rogers once received a wonderful bit of advice from his mother. She told him to always look for the helpers. What she meant was that, in any given dire situation, there will always be people willing to help, to give aid, to make their fellow human beings lives more comfortable. She expressed the idea that one might gain solace from knowing that they are always around, ready to act selflessly.
In my own life, I've seen examples of this. For instance, I have a friend named John King who, on two separate occasions, literally risked life and limb to help strangers.
In 1994, while on a bridge, jogging, in the early morning hours, John saw a pickup truck go into the Fort Point Channel, a rather large body of water which separates South Boston from the Downtown area. He immediately judged the situation to be life-threatening, so he dove into the water with no thought for his own well-being. He helped the driver to safety. The driver told him that there was an additional passenger in the truck. As it turned out, this was untrue - the driver, either in shock or under the influence, was mistaken - but John went back into the water and dove repeatedly looking for this phantom. Pure heroism.
On the other occasion, I was an actual part of John's rescue efforts. We had both attended Sunday mass, accompanied by MY WIFE, and John's wife, Virginia. We were leisurely strolling back to our cars in the parking lot adjacent to the church when we saw a pickup truck with voluminous smoke coming from under the hood. There was a man in the driver's seat, seemingly unaware that his vehicle was on fire.
John ran to the truck, and I followed. He alerted the driver, who exited the vehicle, and then John threw open the hood. Luckily, it was winter and there was snow on the ground. John and I picked up snow and piled it onto the engine until the fire was snuffed. Obviously, we could have been in an explosion at any moment. John was much more the hero than I, by the way, as he showed no hesitation in running toward the danger. Had I been alone, I'm not sure I would have made such a mad dash. I was sort of sucked into his wake.
As heroic and helpful as people like John King are, they aren't completely rare. You can find them in any situation. All you have to do is look. You may have seen film of a plane going down in a river near Washington, DC, some years back. Did you see the people diving into the water and swimming out towards the wreckage to save passengers? Those were the helpers. When you hear a story of someone passing by a burning building and rushing inside to save somebody, that's a helper. There was an instance of a person falling onto the subway tracks in New York City. A complete stranger jumped down into the pit, with an oncoming train bearing down on them both, and pulled the person into a groove in the center of the tracks that was just deep enough to protect them from losing limbs or being crushed. He covered the person's body with his own. They were both unharmed, but without his help the first person would almost surely have died. They're almost always around, someplace, seemingly just waiting for a call to action.
A couple of weeks ago, I counted on the helpers being there waiting. I asked a number of people to show themselves as helpers. Well, if you just plain get into a jam unexpectedly, the helpers will show up. If you actually ask them to help, you'll find more of them than you might have imagined possible. Such was the case for me recently.
(The following will include no actual names, and I'll try to avoid identifiers of any sort as much as is possible. I have no desire to embarrass anyone, nor to compromise any secrets or secret identities. It's a true story, though.)
Via various means, I came to understand that a certain dear friend of mine had never had what might be considered a 'normal' Christmas experience. In addition, this person had suffered some hideous episodes in school during childhood. Part of this was made public on a blog, but additional circumstances were in play - no current job and funds running low.
I consider this person as good a friend as it is possible to have on-line. That is, I've never met the person in person, but we've shared much via e-mail and have come to know each other quite well. I didn't have a home address for this person, so asked for one, to send a Christmas card. I then had an idea. Why not ask the helpers to do what they do - to help?
I composed an e-mail and sent it out to folks whom I thought might be helpers. I asked that they take a minute and send a card to my friend. I figured a handful would respond - it was the height of the Christmas season after all, and folks are mighty busy - but even a handful of cards, to a person who never received any Christmas cards before, would be meaningful and perhaps make the holiday brighter.
To the best of my knowledge, 50 cards have thus far been received by my friend.
Not only was the number amazing, but some cards came with gifts. For instance, one helper sent a lovely bracelet, while another sent a restaurant gift certificate. Many folks sent 5, 10, even 20 or 25 dollars, in cash.
My friend was deeply moved by all of this generosity.
So am I, and that's why I'm publishing this.
All of you helpers - and you know who you are - deserve a big thanks. Being helpers, most of you will pooh-pooh the notion, saying it wasn't anything much. That's the way you helpers are, of course. You tend to shun credit for your actions. You'll say this doesn't compare to jumping into the water and pulling a person out to safety, or rushing to put out an explosive fire, or whatever other more flashy bit of help I referenced above. It does compare, though. It most definitely does. It's not the amount of action undertaken, nor the severity of the situation affected, but the mere fact that you did something noble without a single moment's hesitation. That's what makes you a helper. And that's why you deserve thanks.
(I'd like to do more than just offer this generic thank you, but I won't give names or link to websites; that would give away too much info concerning my good friend, and I believe that person is already overwhelmed without also being put into a spotlight. I know who you good people are, though, and I thank you - all - deeply and sincerely.)
(If my original intent, which was to remain anonymous myself, had panned out, I wouldn't be writing this. Early on, though, folks started telling my friend that I was the one behind the effort. I hadn't asked the helpers to do that - I wish they hadn't, and I wish I had included specific instructions to that effect - but I suppose they figured it was just another helpful thing to do.)
Who are the helpers? You. And me. And lots of others. Next time you're in need of help, look for them. They'll be around, awaiting your call.
Soon, with more better stuff.