In the Mirror

I know I’m at the end of a very long line, but I still have to say it. Thank you, Charles Ramsey.

In case you missed it – and if you did, where were you? – Ramsey is the Cleveland man who helped rescue three women that had been held prisoner by his neighbor for a decade. As he was eating lunch next door, he heard one of the women screaming for help, ran to see what was happening and, with another neighbor’s help,  broke in a door to find and free the ladies.

That alone was sure to put him in every headline in America. But it was his humility afterward that lit up the Internet from Honolulu to Bangor, Maine. No, not a hero, he said. No, he didn’t need a reward; give it to the victims.

“I got a job anyway,” Ramsey told Anderson Cooper. “Just went and picked it up, paycheck.”

That sealed it.

It’s strange, the way we can hold someone we’ve never met to our hearts. Sometimes it’s for incredible nerve under fire, like Captain “Sully” Sullenberger safely landing a crippled airliner on the Hudson River. Sometimes it’s for endurance in an impossible situation, like the miners in Chile three years ago. Once in a while, the sentiment gets betrayed and turns to outrage – remember “Balloon Boy?”

But the warmest reception of all may go to the ones like Ramsey. Ordinary people who, for a moment, did the right thing.

The ones who could have been us.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again: we have a strange turn of mind when it comes to the very good and the very bad. The actions of a Mother Teresa or an Adolf Hitler exist on a scale that boggles our minds: “I could never be that,” many of us say, with either awe or relief.

It’s not true, of course. They, too, were human, however much we might want to deny it in the case of a certain Austrian. Their actions could be another’s actions, given will and opportunity; as John Lennon put it, “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.”

But with someone like Mr. Ramsey, it’s just a little easier to believe.

Maybe we can’t see ourselves ministering to the poor of Calcutta. But we can see ourselves startled out of an ordinary day, called over to help a neighbor. It’s the sort of thing many of us have done many a time under far less dramatic circumstances.

And if those circumstances suddenly became extraordinary – well, most of us know we’ll never be Rambo or James Bond. But a neighbor in need doesn’t need James Bond. They need you.

Simple actions, kindly taken. They make all the difference in the world.

It can be argued endlessly whether you can call that kind of thing “heroism.” Frankly, the debate doesn’t really matter. The right thing is the right thing, regardless of the label; a helping hand is what it is.

It doesn’t take a hero. Just a heart.

And when we see something like the Ramsey rescue, it lifts us all up for a little bit. Yes. I could do that. That could be me.

It’s not a bad reminder to have.

Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight – welcome home. You’ve been through hell; may your trials from this point on be lighter.

Charles Ramsey – thank you. For being a neighbor. For being a friend. For reminding the rest of us that the right thing is always in reach.

That’s a reward worth remembering.

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