April 18, 2014 § 5 Comments
The anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing has brought with it reruns of those horrific hours. We have borne witness again to that cataclysmic moment when the explosion ripped Boylston Street, followed in only a minute or two by a second blast within feet of the first. Victims are fallen and bleeding, there is shattered glass and shards of metal. People are dying, bleeding out, gasping for life, in shock, limbs torn off. Chaos is everywhere.
Within seconds of the explosions we see people throwing twisted barricades aside off of the victims, applying tourniquets, comforting, calling for help, picking up broken bodies and running with them to find aid. They did all this with the uncertainty whether they might be in danger from even more blasts.
There was a news report this week from the west coast in which a young father, hanging out with some friends, intervened to stop a group of men from roughing up a homeless person. For his trouble, the young man, only 39, was stabbed in the chest and killed. His wife said that he was only ” … trying to help somebody who needed help.”
I heard a minor’s settlement a few days ago that arose from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. It was the last claim from among those of the eleven workers who were killed. The evidence was that this particular worker, a crane operator, was not killed by the first blast, but he turned back from the rescue boats and climbed up into his crane, repositioning and “cradling” it so that the rescue boats could get away. As he scrambled down from the crane, there was a second explosion, and he was blown off the ladder and killed.
In each of these events, people ran toward danger when any sane person would have run away. What impels them to do this?
Some might say it is simple heroism. Others may attribute it to extreme courage that most people don’t possess. Still others may see in their actions the hand of God, or destiny, or fate, or karma, or predestination, or any number of motivating factors. There are as many possibilities as there are possible human actions.
To me, though, the evidence lies in the testimony of the witnesses who knew these people best. In the aftermath of a catastrophe, relatives, neighbors and friends often reminisce that the person who ran toward was an ordinary person who led an ordinary life, doing all of the ordinary things that folks like you or I do every day.
I believe that’s because those people who run toward danger are really no different than you or I. I believe that each of us carries inside the gene for courage and selflessness that impels us to lay aside our first instinct for self-preservation in favor of an overriding desire to help, or to rescue, or to avert a greater disaster with full knowledge that we may not come through it alive or intact.
Still, the question remains: what makes these people act on what that gene drives us to do, while others do not. Why do some run toward, while some run away? It’s hard to know what any of us would have done in those fearsome and fatal events. If you’re like me, you’d like to believe that you would be one who ran toward, not away. But we can’t be certain until we are ourselves faced with a similar situation, God forbid.
Most times, I am sure, running toward is a spur-of-the-moment, reflexive decision made when there simply is no time for rational thought or reflection on the pros and cons. The individual’s character structure and personality, then, influence whether one allows the courage and selflessness impulse to trump the survival instinct.
That is not to say that there is anything wrong in wanting to escape harm. Animals are hard-wired to do that very thing, to survive at almost any cost.
But the idea that some will somehow cancel their fear and run toward the chaos to try to bring help, rescue, redemption, and humanity to a situation where all those things have been torn violently away from others is an uplifting and consoling thought. It’s comforting to know that there are people like that. It’s comforting to know that we have the same ingredients within each of us.