The scene is cold, windy, dark, dreary and late at night. The place is a field at the end of a city park, a little off the beaten path. The players are me; the mostly perturbed, hungry and cold guy who dropped his house/truck/everything keys somewhere on his 3 mile, varied terrain, cross country walk earlier that evening with his family and is re-tracing his steps, again. I am meticulously scouring the high grass with a flashlight.
And then there is this guy who stumbled upon me:
"Hey Buddy...you lose something?"
My inner voice grumbled: Nah, Sparky, I had nothing better to do on a cold, windy night so I skipped dinner and came down here to make shadows on the grass with my flashlight. If I wasn't so cranky I probably would have had fun with the idiocy of his question but I was cranky, he surely wasn't there to actually help, plus he probably realized how silly his question was after it left his lips.
Hey, we've all been there right? I recount one of my own notable gaffe's here. Ah, those sentences we wish we could have back and do over.
Thankfully, I eventually found my keys (yaawwwnnn). In retrospect, I think how awkward it can be to see someone in some measure of distress and not being completely sure what to do about it, or what to say about it.
The comedian Eddie Murphy, back in his stand-up days, told the joke of the guy on the street having a seizure or something. Rushing in to heroically administer CPR, he soon learns that the victim now has foam and partially digested food bubbling out of his mouth (yum yum). In response to the panicked onlooker's questions about the victim's viability....and after seeing what mouth-to-mouth resuscitation would involve...Eddie Murphy now exclaims - "he ain't gonna make it".
I think we all want to help our fellow citizens to some degree don't we? But study after study show that it is rare that people intervene unless certain conditions are met, such as, that they themselves get something out of it. Now, isn't that special?
One piece of research that comes to mind is about the class of theologians who were set up in a blind study. They were 'made' late for a test, and on their route they had to pass a distressed person. The majority did not stop to render assistance or even interact to see what was the matter. Getting to their test was their motivation despite their vow to help others.
Yet few people go to the extraordinary lengths in the service to others like Arland Williams did in January of 1982. Mr. Williams was a passenger on a plane that crashed into the iced-over Potomac River outside of Washington DC. A rescue helicopter dropped a ring of life to hoist up the only six people who survived the crash, all of whom were clinging to the sinking fuselage. The rescue line was dropped to Arland Williams first...and he passed it to someone else. And every time the rescue line came to him, he passed it to the other survivors, who one by one were then whisked off to safety. When the rescuers came back for him, the last survivor, he had already succumbed to the freezing water and drowned. He made the choice five times in a row to let a stranger live before himself, essentially sealing his fate, and his legacy.
That was probably not what he had in mind when he started out his day. Yet something in him needed no prompting to do something so selfless.
"It was involuntary. They sank my boat."
- John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963, When asked how he
became a hero.
Some people have it and some people don't. And most won't ever know until faced with their own 'sinking boat' or 'crashed airplane'.
Amazing what topics a couple of hours in the cold night air looking for a set of keys will do for you huh? I shudder to think what topics I will opine about if I lose my wallet!