First Response: Reach Out and Touch Someone

photo 2From an apartment on Elizabeth Street, just south of Houston, I tried to contact my friend Eileen after the second plane hit the World Trade Center. I remember leaving a message on her cell phone hoping she was okay and to get back to me when she got the chance. Then I called an ex-boyfriend who might have been on the 4/5 coming in from Brooklyn to go to work. I never got through on that call. Then I went up to the roof with a dozen or so people to watch the Twin Towers burn and to hope for the best.

From my dining room in New Jersey, four hours from Boston, I texted my sisters when I saw the tweets about bombs going off at the finish line. “Are you guys okay?” My youngest sister’s office is just off the finish  line on Boylston Street, and I thought she might have gone down to watch the race. She hadn’t. She was working from home. They found out about the bombs from me. Then I watched the horror unfold on my laptop screen through tweets and Boston Globe updates, and I hoped for the best.

Based on these and other – less devastating – situations over the years, I know how I react in times of indirect crisis. I reach out to my own, and then I try to make sense of the situation. Seeing how others, those who are in the midst of hell-on-earth, have responded, I can’t promise I would do the same. Would I run towards the smoke and pull aside barricades to try to save a life? I’d like to think I would, but I don’t know. And I don’t blame or judge those who run or hide or pray or curl up in a self-protective cocoon. Because really, luckily, I’ve never found out what I would do.

And that’s what makes heroes what they are. They have been tested, and they chose to jump in – knowing they could help. We can’t all be heroes, and I don’t think everyone should be a hero. If we all ran towards every crisis, it would become a mess of wannabe-do-gooders getting in each others’ way. Some of us need to take on self-preservation, caring for our circles. Some of us need to be on-lookers, witnesses. Some of us need to be the ones who run for help when screamed at to do so.

I’ve heard several accounts of people sheepishly admitting relief at having left the marathon early or going for a drink or not doing enough after the bombs went off. Survivor’s guilt is a nasty business. Similar to regret, it strips away the relief and joy of the present to expose supposed inadequacies of the past. Shake it off. Shake it off and know that each one of us, every day, has the capacity to jump in at any moment. You are here. So jump!

The City of Boston and the State of Massachusetts have set up a place to accept donations that will be used to help those most affected by the events on Patriots’ Day.  It’s called The One Fund, and it is the best place to donate, if you choose to do so. Scary Mommy is also running a matching donation up to $1000. So feel free to go there to donate through Scary Mommy Nation.

And if you need some distraction from the news, check out the yeah write challenge grid – or the speakeasy. Good stuff.

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About That Unique* Weblog

Adjusting to the car culture, dealing with leaving a career I love, and spouting off along the way.
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41 Responses to First Response: Reach Out and Touch Someone

  1. Vanessa says:

    I remember all of these horrors – as a bystander. A bystander that is technically a country away, even if it’s really only miles on the map. I hope that if push came to shove I would be one of the ones who moves towards rather than away – even if it’s just towards one person who needs help.

  2. I think you’re right – not everyone can be a hero in a traditional sense. Not everyone has the opportunity or the fortitude. But the world need s all kinds and sometimes taking care of your immediate circles is what the world needs.

  3. I don’t know what I would do in a crisis. I suppose it depends on if my son was there (in which case my plan would be to save him and worry about no one else (except my husband, of course)). And then, if he wasn’t there, if I was alone, I don’t know. And I don’t ever want to find out.

  4. the world is crazy and there’s no rule book to how to respond. everyone wants to be a hero, but of course we all want to be a lot of things we’re not. it’s okay. we have to do the best we can with who we are, i guess. 😦

  5. I get goose bumps hearing the accounts of people who rushed in to the area to help the victims, not yet knowing if another bomb would go off and if their lives were still in danger. I don’t know what my instincts would tell me to do, but I hope I’d jump. If not, I hope I’d do what you suggest and shake off the shame and prepare to jump next time. For today, I can help the way you suggested. Thanks for this touching, important post.

    • I strongly feel that the every day crises and problems need attention, especially in times where it seems like the whole world is hopping into a hand basket as it slides down the chute to Hell. What a week – and it’s only half-way over! Love wins.

  6. I hope that I would be someone who would jump in – I know for sure my husband would be – but I don’t know. Maybe I would turn towards my own, or curl up into a ball of self-preservation. What I know for sure is that even watching from New York and gathering my news from Twitter and TV, this one hit me hard. Really hard. Harder than 9/11, harder than Newtown, and harder than all the other massive tragedies of my lifetime. I haven’t been able to understand exactly why yet. Maybe because I am a runner, or because I went to college in Boston, or maybe for a million different reasons I haven’t even thought of yet. Thanks for sharing all those links. It helps to do something, even if doing something is just pressing a “donate” button. Or going for a run.

    • I think we each respond to emergencies based on timing, emotional connection and health, relating to something…picturing ourselves in the situation. It makes sense that a runner would relate to this. For me, with a kindergartner, Newtown was very difficult. And for me, with teenaged students, the Trayvon Martin murder made me furious and desperately sad. Honoring each other as individuals is so important.

  7. Joe says:

    I still don’t know what people hope to achieve by random acts of violence.

  8. iasoupmama says:

    Sometimes I hate the surreal way that everyone with a TV can feel like they’re at these events. I remember being glued to the TV after the Oklahoma City bombing, mesmerized by the situation.

    The marathon is a celebration of human capability, a tribute to the triumph of human endurance and strength. I hate that anyone has the power to make it less than that, if only for an instant.

    • So true. And the need for more and more information is not always healthy in the long run. Even while it’s sometimes healing – or seemingly so – at the time. Mesmerized is a good choice of words – removed, but needing to feel connected – suspended. OKC was so traumatic, and I’m glad I didn’t have children at the time.

  9. I will never understand why people want to harm the innocent – and I mean anywhere in this world. It’s so disheartening that on a weekly basis I have to reassure my small kids that they are safe and that everything is going to be okay. Enough is enough…..

  10. That really is a great point–we don’t know until we’re there. I love that we are championing the heroes who run back to help, but I do wonder how that affects those who ran away, like I might have done. Because I don’t know either. I think the reality is, we don’t know and so we can’t judge. We can cheer on and encourage those who sacrificed safety and well-being and other things to help, and we can also offer support to those we love and know nearby, or to those who were around and reacted differently. One of the only reactions I think worthy of judgment? Looters and people who take advantage for selfish gain, as apparently is happening in West, Texas after the plant explosion yesterday. That’s close to home and I hate hearing that people like that are showing up in addition to those who want to help. Ugh.

    • Oh that’s just horrible. I hadn’t heard about looters in West. Disgusting. I hope it’s being exaggerated, but I can imagine that if many are evacuated that it’s tempting to those who wish to take advantage. Don’t forget to focus on the helpers. 🙂

      The cropping up of fake charities is also insulting – it has made me focus any giving on organizations I know are above-board.

  11. Rachel J. says:

    This was so beautiful. Thank you.

  12. mamarific says:

    I hadn’t thought about what I would or wouldn’t do in a crisis like that. Like you, I am thankful that I haven’t had to find out. But you’ve given me a lot to think about, and I appreciate your perspective on this subject.

  13. Running toward? That is the question. I think if I had my children with me, instinctively my first thought would be “how the hell to get them away from danger” or “where is danger lurking?” and get them away. If alone, most of us would reach out to help someone struggling regardless of circumstance. For most of us that is instinct. That’s what makes it so sad. Who would do the utter opposite and cause death?

    • Agreed. I think our instincts are so rarely tested that it’s hard to know, although we may all have a good idea. Protecting our children is so primal – and the fight or flight response is all wrapped up in it.

  14. Larks says:

    I love your point about how we shouldn’t all be “run towards the explosion” style heroes. Those kinds of heroes are important, definitely, but so are the bystanders who run for help, the pillars of strength who hold a grieving community together, and all of the other people who do all of the non-flashy but equally necessary tasks involved in disaster recovery. Very good point and nice piece.

  15. I have never been a hero, but then I’ve never had an opportunity. I like to think I’d run right in and help people, but you’re right – you never know until you’re in that situation.

  16. 50peach says:

    It is true. We all serve in some capacity, in some way, no matter our instinctual reactions to crisis. As usual, I love to read your words. xo

  17. It could have been my husband running Boston this year. It could have been me getting blown up while waiting to cheer him across the finish line.
    Most of us will never know if we are of-the-moment heroes because most of us, thank God, won’t be faced with such carnage.
    Senseless. Tragic. Horrible. Heartbreaking.

  18. Stacie says:

    This whole thing is so awful. We also got in touch with our relatives in Boston first thing (all were ok). I couldn’t even watch the news that first night. Too terrible.

  19. This post is the only one I allowed myself to read about what happened in Boston and I’m glad because it’s thought-invoking. It raises a lot of questions that I never thought of asking myself. My immediate thought in regards to helping is that if I only saw or heard the explosion, I would remove myself from the area but if I saw someone injured at the time I saw the explosion, I would be at their side without hesitation, assuming I didn’t have my family with me to protect.

    • Thanks for commenting – and reading – Kendra! We each have our own needs and circumstances. And I always find it overly harsh when others judge someone else’s response to a crisis that is impossible to prepare for. Thank you for adding to the conversation.

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