“As we go together, we will draw inspiration from heroic and selfless acts — friends who helped friends, took care of each other and saved lives,” he said. “In the face of hate and violence, we will love one another.” President Barack Obama
I admit it. I am overwhelmed by emotions I have been struggling with all week.
As a clinical social worker who worked with domestic violence for twenty-five years helping survivors of it put their lives back together, I became intimately acquainted with the consequences of anger and the choice to embrace violence, and I know how hard it is for victims of violence to recover.
As a responder to the 9 11 attacks, spending the early weeks at Ground Zero working at an aid station on a girder that fell from the South Tower, I saw the results of terrorism up close and have paid a price for my help in consequences to my own health. But I also saw real heroes, not only in the first responders, but in ordinary people who rushed in to help, in peanut butter sandwiches packed by school children, in those who stood in solidarity with us with candles along our route into the disaster.
And as the aunt of an amazing young man who happens to be gay, as someone with a number of gay friends, and someone living in North Carolina seeing the intolerance of the HB2 struggle, I can see the connection between bigotry, irrational fear, and hate crimes. Part of my emotions come from hearing from friends shaken by this event, by the thought that they, too, could have been victims just because of who they love.
So, I am mad and sad and appalled and disappointed and discouraged, but I am not without hope.
And if you wonder about that, I will echo Fred Rogers. While the news seems to have been dominated by the unreasoned hatred of one man, amplified by the heartbreak of so many, family, friends, and a community, the good guys were there!
Obviously, that starts with the police, and with gratitude that none were killed and only one injured, though shot in the head, saved by his protective Kevlar helmet. I cannot speak words that match the deep thanksgiving that lives in my heart for the police, firefighters and first responders. Watching them at Ground Zero, I saw their heroism time and again.
But taking Mr. Rogers’ advice, I kept looking and more and more stories of heroes, ordinary men, who acted with courage and saved other’s lives surfaced. Some I found include:
John McGill who after managing to flee from The Pulse nightclub saw another man, injured and bleeding from multiple wounds, trying to run from the building. Stripping the shirt from his own back and taking off the victim’s shirt, he bound up Rodney Sumpter’s wounds. He then got the victim, a bartender at the club, to the police lines. He was asked to lay in a police car with Mr. Sumpter, and keep the bleeding man on top of him, compressing his wounds with his arms and his body until an ambulance could come. This “bear hug” saved Mr. Sumpter’s life.
Imran Yousef, a bouncer at The Pulse, a Marine who only left the military last month, saw that people were trapped in a narrow space near him. He knew they were pressed against a door, but so tightly packed and scared they were frozen. He ran to them, exposing himself to Mateen’s fire, and got them to move so he could open the door and free them all. He is credited with saving dozens of lives.
And finally, on last night’s news I heard a story about Dr. Joshua Corsa a surgeon at the Orlando Regional Medical Center. His own words bring such a powerful perspective they need to shared. I hope you read them:
“These are my work shoes from Saturday night. They are brand new, not even a week old. I came to work this morning and saw these in the corner my call room, next to the pile of dirty scrubs.
“I had forgotten about them until now. On these shoes, soaked between its fibers, is the blood of 54 innocent human beings. I don’t know which were straight, which were gay, which were black, or which were hispanic. What I do know is that they came to us in wave upon wave of suffering, screaming, and death. And somehow, in that chaos, doctors, nurses, technicians, police, paramedics, and others, performed super human feats of compassion and care. This blood, which poured out of those patients and soaked through my scrubs and shoes, will stain me forever. In these Rorschach patterns of red I will forever see their faces and the faces of those that gave everything they had in those dark hours.
“There is still an enormous amount of work to be done. Some of that work will never end. And while I work I will continue to wear these shoes. And when the last patient leaves our hospital, I will take them off, and I will keep them in my office. I want to see them in front of me every time I go to work. For on June 12, after the worst of humanity reared its evil head, I saw the best of humanity of come fighting right back. I never want to forget that night.”
You see, as Mr. Rogers’ mother knew in the midst of horror and fear we should look for the helpers, the ordinary heroes. They are always there showing us the way.
My thoughts and prayers go out for all the victims, for their families, for the survivors as they continue their long journey to wholeness of body and spirit, and for our country. We are better than this kind of hatred…may the helpers show us a way to share that with each other.