Rushing in when everyone else is rushing out

| 15 Feb 2012 | 09:29

    It’s the middle of the day. You’re walking - or driving or working or bicycling - along a busy highway that borders a university campus when you come upon a serious traffic accident that has just occurred. A motorcycle is lying on the roadway, in flames. A badly damaged automobile is stopped near the motorcycle, and the fire is beginning to spread to the car. Suddenly you notice that someone - probably the motorcycle driver - is pinned underneath the car. He isn’t moving. For all you know, he might already be dead. But you don’t know for sure. And the fire is spreading toward him. What are you going to do? For 14 or so passers-by last Monday, the answer was immediate and unflinching: they rushed in to help. They tried to get him out from under the car, but he was stuck under there, and the fire was moving ever closer. A few people tried to life the car, but barely moved it. There was a moment of hesitation, and then a larger group - including several hard hat-wearing construction workers - moved as one to the side of the car, and with all their collective might they lifted the 3,000-pound burning vehicle up onto two wheels while another construction worker pulled the unconscious young motorcycle driver out from under the car. I’m not making this up. Google “burning car lifted off trapped man.” You’ll see it’s true. And please notice the flames lapping at the young man’s foot as they drag him to safety. Miraculously, the young man survived, with only broken bones, some road rash and a few bruises to show for his brush with death. Oh, and he has one other thing: a thankful heart. A day after his dramatic rescue he was still in the hospital recuperating from his injuries. But he sent his uncle out to thank the people who risked their lives to save his. “He knows that there are angels out there that saved his life,” his uncle said. “People came together, risked their lives, to save him.” He paused, then added: “Just . . . thank you . . . from all of us in the family.” In my mind, there were two remarkable things that happened in those few anxious moments from the time the accident occurred until the time the young motorcyclist was dragged to safety. First was the heroic rush of people - more than one - to offer assistance despite the very real possibility of harm to themselves. I think of the gallant police officers and fire fighters who rushed IN to the twin towers on 9/11 when everyone else was rushing OUT, the office workers on the upper floors who ran UPSTAIRS to help others instead of following their natural self-protective impulses to rush DOWN. I’m awed and inspired by such compassionate courage. I don’t know that I possess it - and quite frankly, it’s OK with me if I never find out for sure - but I’m grateful to live in a world in which so many do. The second remarkable thing that happened that morning was that all of these brave, caring people managed to work together to save a life. It would not have happened if they had not. One or two people couldn’t lift that car. Even six or seven - they tried. It took all of them pushing together to get the car up on two wheels so the injured young man could be moved out of the way. There’s a lesson in that for all of us, I think. No matter how strong we are individually, we are infinitely stronger in the face of adversity if we work together. Like the young man’s uncle said: “A lot of times things happen these days that shake our faith in humanity. But here we have not one person, not two people, but nearly a dozen people rushing together to a burning scene to lift a thousand-pound car. That is absolutely incredible.” You don’t have to Google that to know it’s true.