We Do What We Can: Or Do We?
These words sound weak: “we do what we can” in this culture of superlatives where someone is not just good but “amazing”, where a movie is not merely excellent but “awesome.”
Recently, I spoke with a long time friend about why the phrase, “we do what we can” echoes in my mind and heart. And no longer connotes weakness or insignificance.
There are 3 reasons:
- During Lent on Fridays, I walk the Stations of the Cross if at all possible. The sixth station pictures a woman stepping out of the crowd holding a white cloth impressed with the image of the tortured, bleeding face of Christ. On Good Friday, while staring at the image of the woman holding the bloodied cloth, I realized that she did what she could.
- For several years, my husband John and I drove to Reno on Sunday mornings to hand out cups of hot coffee and fresh donuts to the homeless who collect around 4th street and near the river. After two hours of doing so in that first cold, dreary March morning, John asked what I thought. “It’s overwhelming, there are so many. And their hands were so cold.” But there were about forty people who had gotten a hot cup of coffee and a fresh donut. We did what we could.
- This week, we read there were two more school shootings: one about 10 miles from Columbine, Colorado and the second at University of North Carolina. But in these two incidents, there were two young men who did more than they could. Kendrick Costillo rushed a shooter entering the door of his British literature classroom, tackling the assailant and giving the police more opportunity to stop the carnage. Riley Howell flew across his classroom and tackled another gunman at UNC bringing the gunman to the ground. Both young men are dead.
Did these young people just react?
Or had they thought about what they might do in case the worst thing happened?
Did Kendrick and Riley jump out of bed the morning of the day they died thinking, “Gosh, I hope I get the chance to use my body as a weapon to stop a crazed killer?” Most likely not, but each of them had thought about what they would do if the worst thing happened. Galvanizing action instead of paralysis.
I was one of the apparently few of us who loved Eastwood’s movie, The 15:17 to Paris because there were similarities between the two real events. The glaring difference, of course, the three young men in the movie lived to tell their story.
Which begs my real question here.
What are we willing to die for?
Morbid question? Maybe but I’ll wager you’ve asked yourself the question. I surely have. And I’ll bet Kendrick and Riley did as well. Clint Eastwood’s movie told the real story of three soldiers on vacation. Men who had asked and answered that question.
To respond as quickly as the lone Kendrick and solitary Riley, they had as well. And I cannot help but wonder what might have happened if others had joined them. Could a group of people acting in concert have brought down the killers?
These are split second happenings. Sitting watching a movie, worshiping in church, studying in a classroom, riding in an airplane. “Safe” places. But is there such a thing? A safe place?
Back two careers ago, I flew, a lot. I got lots of invitations to speak at other academic health centers, it was exciting and I loved it. One flight from somewhere on the east coast hit unexpected turbulence. Bad. And the plane began to dive. Oxygen masks descended, people were screaming, the sound of the plane was terrifying. I sat there wondering if I were alive when we crashed, would I be have the capacity to help others? Or would I be paralyzed, capable of focusing only on me?
Asking the question is important I think.
Because I believe that safety cannot be guaranteed. By law or fiat. And my own safety and that of others cannot be relegated to another, even the police.
There may come a time to decide do what I can with no more than a split second to make the decision. I pray that in thinking about what I would do if….will assure that I do all that I can.