I hadn’t realized how thoroughly I had come to expect daily accounts of humans being beastly until I found the story describing the courage and decency displayed by ordinary people in Panama City, Florida, who, seeing children and adults trapped in a ferocious rip tide, joined hands, stepped up, formed a human chain, and put themselves in danger in order to rescue people they didn’t know.
After week after week of defaced temples, graves, and mosques, after swastikas, Klansmen, murders, and bullies, after being assured that there are no safe spaces, I realize that I have allowed myself and my world to shrink. I have allowed all that is ugly to blur all that I know is lovely.
Political discourse has always brought recrimination and occasionally brought assault upon the character of those in office or the character of those holding a point of view other than one’s own, but we’ve lived through administrations that displeased us without abandoning the rule of law for the most part. For the most part. As I write today, it is hard for me to remember that the groovy Sixties included violence on a terrifying scale and moments in which it seemed the Republic as we knew it might not survive. I’d like to take some comfort in believing that just as those wounds healed, the current climate of animosity and distrust might not mean the end of tolerance, civility, and security.
After all, doesn’t everyone need a safe space?
I’m tempted, of course, to use the brave Floridian human chain metaphorically, recognizing the leap of … what? Faith to be sure. Faith that people of all sorts cherish life and are willing to go to great lengths to protect it. Courage too, the summoning of capacities we rarely know, summoning the willingness to step into troubled waters because others need help.
Stories such as this reveal generosity of spirit and shared humanity both moving and restorative, but in addition to the “feel good” appreciation of what others have had the courage to do, they also ask us to question our own willingness to act in the interest of something other than, greater than, ourselves. I don’t know the ethnicity of those who saved children from drowning. I don’t know what political convictions they hold or who they love. I only know that they came together, took a stranger’s hand, and did as a whole what they could not have done alone.