Julie Gillis shares a story about courage and compassion and why she believes it’s important to humanity.
Courage: c.1300, from O.Fr. corage (12c., Mod.Fr. courage) “heart, innermost feelings; temper,” from V.L. *coraticum (cf. It. coraggio, Sp. coraje), from L. cor “heart,” which remains a common metaphor for inner strength.
I read the post about Providence Girl Beaten While Neighbor Videotapes. I read the post, Please, Define The Word Coward. I’ve been shocked and dismayed at comments claiming that it’s better to walk away and do nothing than to step in and help in some way (including simply calling 911). I’ve been turned inside out by the idea that to help is to be foolish and risk jail time. I’ve been appalled at the suggestion that people helping people somehow creates a paradigm where men are the only rescuers.
I don’t exactly know what to think really, about the point that it’s better to walk away from each other, take care of the self. I feel pretty certain that those doing the walking away are often the first to complain that no one backs them up from hurt or pain or bullying.
I remembered an important moment in my life, when people came to help two families in an accident. Men helped. Women helped. People helped.
Here is my story. A long while ago, my son (at the time about 4) was in a car accident while driving with a friend’s family. It was a very very bad accident and in fact the car that was hit (which held four people, the mother and father of the friend and my son), was crumpled nearly in half as the truck hitting them ran a red light at high speed and T-boned the car my son was in. The man and woman in the front seats of the car hit were nearly killed and suffered greatly for months after the accident. The other car? Not a scratch. No one hurt.
Many people stopped to help, including a woman who got out of her car, took photos at her own risk (as she had NO idea if the other people would react badly to it and they were NOT happy) followed the EMTs to the hospital and found me and gave me her email address so that we (me and the other parents) would have proof of the accident etc. Another person, a young man, drove to where I was and delivered the horrible news. In addition, as I had my 9 month old son with me as I got the hospital, I left him with an male EMT for a good 20 minutes. Didn’t know him, didn’t get a waiver, just handed him over when he offered to take him.
You might argue that’s because he was an EMT, but I’d have given him to nearly anyone and trusted them too, because I had two kids in the ER with broken bones and glass in their faces, a husband out of town and the other child’s parents in surgery. I had to have the little one someplace while I waited for a neighbor to come get him.
None of them had to do that, offer to help. They showed courage and compassion, even though it placed them at risk (in her case physical, since she might have been confronted, and in his case emotional, since he was carrying this horrible image, news to tell a mother…god knows how I might have reacted, and the EMT might have risked some kind of something…what a false accusation?).
But they went past their own lives and made a very positive change in my life. Both children are fine. Both parents lived.
I don’t like the word bravery per se. I love the word courage, which has a root in the word heart. To show heart, even when the heart is breaking, at risk, terrified…I think that is to be human. I’m so very sad that so much of the commentary in the other thread shows a greater fear of personal risk than of the heart to help others.
I get it, in a way. We do live in a litigious society. And we live in a society that places a great amount of focus on individual benefit rather than community support.
(There can be reasons for litigation. In the case above, there were legal issues-the driver of the truck was clearly at fault, there were other things in place that I won’t mention here, but NO one at the site who helped was accused of anything. Obviously. Why would we accuse people of risking their own safety and time and jobs and everything when they stopped and helped? They were saviors.)
I’d stop and help. My husband would stop and help. I hope people in this country will take a good look at what it means to have heart. Compassion and yes Courage.
There are other stories in my past of people helping when there might not have been any reason to risk. I’ve watched a woman and a man try to save my father’s life as he lay dying of a heart attack. I’ve witnessed my mother stopping at the side of the road to see if a broken down car needed help without knowing who was in it. I’ve seen my Aunt take near-strangers in as house-guests (paying nearly nothing) because they were new to town. I’ve watched my own son, push back against people bullying other boys in his school, risking being bullied himself.
I’ve watched countless examples of tiny little spoonfuls of support in the world of all genders, races and orientations, from folks at my work to neighbors to theater folk coming together to either raise money, step in during an accident, take care of people.
Taking care of each other. We cannot exist without each other.
Do we always feel courageous? Probably not. Should we do the work anyway? I think so. That’s what courage is, I think, risking and loving, and reaching out even when you are terrified.
How? It might be writing under your real name, when you’re ready. It might be speaking truth to power in a staff meeting. It might be taking in thousands of refugees at your hotel in wartime. It might be keeping a diary when you are in hiding. It might also be simply anonymously calling the cops when you see a child getting beaten, or a car accident, or a fight on the streets. Or arguing and posting here in the comments. That can take courage, certainly.
I feel pretty certain that our readers out there may have stories of courage. Stories of witnessing humans helping humans. Stories of being helped. Stories of risks taken. They might be big ones or tiny, nearly unnoticeable acts of courage. I’d love to read them in our comments as a show of how valuable we find our inner heart. Let’s define courage for each other.
Please share here or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s do some work inspiring courage and acts of compassion rather that claiming it isn’t worth our time.
Photo courtesy of Leonard John Matthews