Oh, Rob, you gorgeous fool. If only you were right.
To put it lightly, it’s been a heavy news week. From IEDs in Boston, ricin-laced letters and last night’s explosion leveling a small town just north of Waco, Texas (just 2 days prior to the 20th anniversary of the Branch Davidian siege) to the US Senate voting against expanded background checks for firearms and reinstating the 1994 semi-automatic weapons ban… it’s like information overload. Right now, tempers are high because everywhere you turn you run into powerlessness. Confusion and fear leads to anarchy. No one knows what to do, and we wait for someone strong to make a stand so that we can follow their lead.
I have great admiration for first responders and medical professionals during these times and feel we could all learn from their example. While I sit stunned, staring at my TV saying “How could this happen?” hundreds of people statewide rush to the scene or man their stations in nearby hospitals so that they can be of service. For these individuals, there is no time to mourn, no time to search for a cause. There is only the need for action – to stop the hemorrhaging and salvage what they can. They must divorce themselves from their emotions and sacrifice themselves to be of service to those in their community. And they don’t do it for fame or recognition or to further a political agenda… they do it because it has to be done.
The closest I have come to being one of these first responders occurred in high school when one of my classmates attempted suicide (and from what I remember, she very nearly succeeded). While we were friendly, I was not close with her, though some of my friends were and they were greatly affected by the event. My then boyfriend and I spent the next couple of days consoling our friends, taking on their grief so it wasn’t so heavy on their shoulders alone. At the end of those days, we took a few minutes for ourselves so that we could decompress and we just sat and cried out all the pain of our friends. I felt like I was John Coffey with tears instead of illness.
In today’s world, where news becomes worldwide in a matter of moments, our heartstrings are played like fiddles. We ache with empathy for others and long to be of help somehow, but how? What do I do from here? In Boston, hospitals were turning away people wanting to give blood because they already had more than they could take. In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, so many toys were donated that the people of Sandy Hook had to rent out storage and then organize ways to donate the excess to others in need elsewhere. We don’t want to feel powerless. We WANT to help in any way we can. And many times we end up making very bad decisions in effort to assuage that burning desire to become someone’s John Coffey.
When we feel weak and powerless, we look to someone strong to lead. Hoping to find a General Honoré a la Katrina, instead we are greeted by celebrities and politicians flying in like Mighty Mouse: “Here I come to save the day!” Let me tell you right now: true heroes keep their heads down in times of trouble. True heroes get dirty when times are tough; they aren’t out there standing in the spotlight. Whenever I see an actor speaking up in times of tragedy, I wonder what new movie he’s got coming out. Even worse is finding a politician shaking his head over a deadly scene because next you know he’s going to use our pain to introduce new legislation. And we are all too eager to jump on board… all because we don’t know how we can help and here is someone who looks like he knows what he’s doing.
I commend the Senate, keeping their heads about them to make a tough decision during such distracting times. No matter how you feel about guns, this was a vote over legislation introduced in the wake of one of our worst tragedies in recent times… it was reactionary and based in fear. Today, as we imagine ourselves living in the “end times” because of such a heavy news week, many are outraged at this decision. My take is this: Good decisions are never made in haste or under emotional duress. Even the right thing at the wrong time is still the wrong thing.
Stop looking to Hollywood and Washington when things get rough. Heroes and leaders will only be found in the trenches, not standing in the spotlight miles away. Don’t let these people decide where you stand and how you act. Better yet, be your own hero. Get down in the mess of it and become someone’s John Coffey. Once the dust has settled, we can talk about causes and solutions, but today we need to be surgeons with steady hands to excise the emotional wounds our neighbors have sustained.