Thursday, July 5, 2012

American Courage?

The searing heat wave has dominated the last two news cycles but it looks like there may be an end in sight.  The jet stream flows across Canada, however, and it really needs to drop south for any lasting end to the heat.  So, Summer marches on....

Scott Meyer (Photo: Kare-11 TV)
While most people found cool shelter the last two days, the residents of tiny Oak Grove, Wisconsin armed themselves with full water bottles and went out to search for a missing little boy, Scott Meyer.  He'd wandered away from his home Tuesday afternoon, barefoot and bare-chested.  His parents warned everyone that Scotty was autistic and didn't speak, so he wouldn't reply to calls of his name.  The searchers tromped through fields under the blazing sun, trudged through groves of trees, looked under bushes and behind boulders until late in the evening.  Ambulances carried those the heat had beaten down for medical help at the nearest hospital.  And Scotty's parents and family prayed.

The next morning, the fourth of July, volunteers came out in droves to continue the search despite the intense and brutal heat.  Among them walked a young man with his dog.  After some time in the heat, the young man headed for a stream so his dog could cool off.  But no sooner had they arrived at the stream than the dog took off up a nearby hill.  The young man followed, surprised by his dog's behavior.  On the hilltop, sitting under a tree, the dog and the young man found Scotty who immediately reached for the young man's water bottle.  The joy of discovery and rescue buoyed the searchers, and I believe, affirmed their purpose.  They had given up their Independence Day celebrations to search for a little lost boy.

Scotty reunited with parents (photo: Kare-11 TV)

I watched the news report last evening and marveled at the good fortune of Scotty, his parents and the searchers.  It astounded me that the entire town had turned out for the search.  We don't think of these searches as an act of courage but they are.  It takes courage to go out into dangerous heat conditions, to put the life of a little boy ahead of one's own welfare.  It takes courage to search in spite of uncertainty and in spite of the real fear about what the search may uncover.  This time, the search ended with celebration and joy...in spite of the heat.

On a Florida beach another kind of courage compelled a young lifeguard to leave his post and help to rescue a man who was drowning.  His courage was not really about going into the water.  No, it was about doing the right thing.  This young lifeguard not only left his post but also his assigned area and ran into the beach area not covered by lifeguards, and where a posted sign warned beach-goers that they swam there at their own risk.  He wasn't supposed to do that.  He was supposed to call 911 from his guard chair and nothing else.  Just because the man swam in an unguarded area.

Tomas Lopez, Lifeguard (photo: sun-sentinel.com)

I heard on the news this morning that that brave lifeguard had been fired from his job for leaving his assigned area.  How could he have helped to saved a life, actually doing his job, and get fired for it?  Doesn't make much sense, does it?  That lifeguard should get a medal.  And I hope that his courage will be recognized and he'll get his job back.  That's the kind of lifeguard I'd want watching over me at the beach.

Here in America, we like to pat ourselves on the back and assure ourselves that this courage -- to brave the elements, to save a life -- is somehow uniquely American.  It's not.  It's everywhere on this planet.  The courage to stand up for what is right and fair.  To ignore the danger to oneself in order to help someone else.  Peer or group pressure can extinguish the flame of courage in all of us, allowing the fear of inadequacy or the fear of judgement to take its place.  It's hard to take action, especially if you are the only one.  But people do it, over and over, day after day, all over the world. 

If the Fourth of July celebrates anything, it certainly celebrates the courage to take action in the face of uncertainty..... 

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