I read a story today about John Tumpane, a major league umpire, and his efforts to keep a woman from jumping off a bridge in Pittsburg. Tumpane was on the bridge with other sightseers when the woman started climbing out, saying she wanted to get a better view of the Allegheny River below. Tumpane, and others, grabbed her and held her, then eventually got her to come back onto the bridge. The story made clear, based on later interviews of her, that her intent was to jump from the bridge.
Any time I see these stories I always scroll down to “the statement.” It is always there. At some point, when someone suggests that the act was heroic, “the statement” comes out. The person involved never considers himself or herself a hero, and responds with something like this: “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. It seemed like the right thing to do. I did what anyone else would have done in that situation.” In this case, in this story, Tumpane gave the shorthand version – “I just happened to be there.” Somehow, “the statement” always gives me hope, and helps me set aside my cynical pessimism and believe, if only momentarily, that the world is full of these humble, non-heros doing good things.
Reading the story this morning, I was reminded that yesterday, driving to work, I noticed four concerned looking people gathered around an apparently homeless man passed out on the sidewalk. EMS attendants were just walking up to help him. I assume one of the four had called 911 and waited with the man until EMS arrived. I suppose that if anyone had walked up to one of those four who stopped to help that they would have each given some version of “the statement.”
Of course, some of these stories make the news, some I happen to see or become aware of, but it is only logical that thousands, if not millions, of these stories (some much less dramatic, others more so) play out every day that we never know about – people who “just happened to be there” doing things that “just seemed like the right thing to do.” In fact, it occurs to me that perhaps that is the source of most goodness in the world, people who “just happened to be there” doing what “just seemed like the right thing to do.” In this thought I am reminded of the line from Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata: “With all it sham and drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.”