In an age where nearly every human event is met with some degree of skepticism it is wise to turn a favored eye toward the better angels of our nature. To those periodic reminders of man's potential for reaching high and accomplishing heroic and unselfish feats.
My mind still replays the image of that Lieutenant Colonel last month on Boylston Street. As the first bomb went off you see the young military man turn toward the explosion as others turned and fled. The young man's first instinct was to assist the injured...and he did so. Later, in interviews, he claimed no degree of heroism...he just wanted to help the injured, he said. Yes, no doubt his military training played a role in his heroic actions.. but it was the nobility of the human soul that shone brightest in that moment of crisis and danger.
And how many times did we see that nobility on 9/11/2001. I can still recall watching human beings hurling themselves out of skyscrapers, and I wept until I thought I could not shed another tear. Then, as thousands of soot covered citizens fled the tragedy I witnessed hundreds of New York City firefighters going the other way...toward the fiery inferno, running into that crumbling edifice and climbing high into the bowels of the World Trade Center, rescuing victims even as steel girders and raging fire engulfed them. And I cried some more for so many of those noble men, seared in fire and swallowed by a million tons of steel, even as I prayed for their mortal souls. American nobility in its finest hour!
I saw it and read about it so many times in the military...the supreme courage of our troops at Khe Sanh, our green American Security Police troops holding the line against a massive North Vietnamese invasion of Tan Son Nhut. Despite being outnumbered 20 to 1 those young men, armed only with small weapons, held the line for twelve hours and prevented a breach of the airfield, saved countless lives and billions of dollars of U.S. aircraft. And only hours later those same young men found their way down to the orphanage we sponsored and built make shift shelters and fed and comforted little children under assault from Viet Cong mortars. Supreme nobility!
We saw the nobility of spirit at Valley Forge as patriots trod through the winter snow without shoes, dedicated to a cause and an outcome that was all but certain. We saw it at Gettysburg when a young English professor turned military officer held the line at Little Round Top that turned the tide of battle and gave Lincoln his first Union victory.
And we see nobility even among the common people. We saw that humble nobility in dust bowl farmers who turned away from the offer of government aid because they had never taken charity in their life and could not bring themselves to accept it even in the face of starvation. We saw it through John Steinbeck as he chronicled the death of an infant during the Dust Bowl migration, only to see the young mother suckle a dying man only hours after the passing of her child.
And God bless us, we see nobility in the every day lives of Americans even today, as they set out for the day to work two part time jobs just to feed a family. We see nobility in the hearts of a million folks who leave home in the morning to carry bedpans in hospitals, to soup kitchens and food banks to feed the homeless.
Yes, even today, when the ideologues and the corrupters and the game players infest our communities there still exists those noble souls who serve and sacrifice and remind us of our immense potential when we listen to our better angels.