Lifting Our Souls: Compassion Defines Our Heroes

by Suzanne on April 25, 2012

I opened an email from a friend the other day, and watched the video she had attached.  Halfway into the narrative, I found myself breaking into sobs.  Not just tearing up, but deep sobs of something near joy.


When I tell you the video is about 9/11, you’re wondering how I could find joy in anything associated with such tragedy and sorrow.  Yet, in that film I found proof of the innate compassion and love humans have for each other.  Proof of the oneness that we so often try to deny.


We most often see reminders of 9/11 around national holidays and on the anniversary of that horrendous event.  And with the buffer of nearly eleven years between my emotions of that day, I was surprised that I reconnected with the energy of that morning so instantly and completely.


What caught me emotionally off-guard was a short documentary about a rescue action I had never heard of.


Tom Hanks narrates BOATLIFT: An Untold Tale of 9/11 Resilience, a testament to the hundreds of average Americans who joined with the ferries, the Coast Guard, and other boats who regularly plied their trade in the harbor.


I found myself sobbing as I watched hundreds of ordinary people who were already safe outside Manhattan, race their crafts swiftly and determinedly toward the tragedy.


Here, in one aerial shot, is the evidence that these are not solitary actions by individuals somehow better than, braver than, and more compassionate than most of us.  Because these men and women responding to the Coast Guard call for support were the man next door, the woman down the street, the teenager with his first pleasure boat.


A hero is a man who does what he can.  – Romain Rolland


I was overwhelmed with a sense of the compassion and courage that is the best part of all of us.  We don’t allow ourselves to show that side of our humanness every day.  Perhaps we think we will appear soft and naïve if we do so. 


I realized that we sometimes believe there is little courage and compassion left in our world because we see only small vignettes in the midst of hours of bad news.  News reporters stand in front of a collapsed building, at a hospital treating famine patients, in the rubble of a tsunami, while the camera focuses on one individual, or at most a handful of people lifting fallen stone walls in search of survivors.  What we don’t see are the thousands of people outside camera range, doing the same thing.  Unless we are at the scene, we don’t get the chance to see the huge outpouring of response, the courageous work to pull survivors to safety, the hours-long, days-long, dirty, thirsty, hungry endless work these brave responders do.


Even though this video specifically speaks to the heroism of the ordinary American, I have no doubt that no matter which nation tragedy strikes, there are ordinary people, the man next door, the woman down the street, who never hesitate as they kiss their family good-bye on the way to help someone in need.


“A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson


I won’t forget this little video.  I am grateful to the friend who sent it to me.  When I feel overwhelmed by the lack of civility in people holding positions of power, in the inability of people to disagree without hiding their ugly discourse behind the anonymity of screen names, when I feel there is surely no compassion or love between fellow humans left in this world…  That is when I will remember the white wakes of those hundreds of boats rushing into the toxic clouds of an unknown danger, because it was the right thing to do.  There is love and respect for human life within us after all.  It is a shame that it takes something catastrophic to remember that.





J. Denton April 25, 2012 at 11:56 am

A beautifully written tribute to the common man and woman who does what is necessary in any given moment. A reminder that within each heart lies that very same impulse to respond when there is a need.

Suzanne April 25, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Joan, we tend to forget our own magificent capacity for love, or is it that we each doubt we are that good and brave as compared to the next man or woman?

Vincent Ardolino says in the film, “I never want to say “I should have.'” I believe we all can say, “I will. I do.” Believe in your own goodness.

Mel Reifer May 9, 2012 at 4:06 am

Nice blog here! Also your web site loads up very fast! What host are you using? Can I get your affiliate link to your host? I wish my site loaded up as quickly as yours lol

Suzanne May 11, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Thanks, Mel. I owe that to John at support at thesmallbusinesswebsiteguy dot com.

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