Long ago in biology class, I learned about the “fight or flight reflex,” the surge of hormones into the blood after a sudden fright or potential threat that gives a person the strength to run away or to stand and fight. I am much more a flight person than a fight person. I don’t know what I would have done if I had been able to go into Boston on Patriots’ Day to see the end of the marathon. I’ve gone in past years and always been humbled by the grace of the elite runners and wheelchair athletes, the sheer endurance shown by the middle of the packers and the last stragglers.
In all the coverage of the bombing tragedy at this year’s event, one story struck me particularly hard. A middle aged lady told a local interviewer that she had been standing near the finish line, waiting for a friend, when the first explosion occurred. Her flight mechanism took over, and she started running away. However, something made her look back,and she saw people through the clouds frozen in place with their hands over their ears, then smoke clearing to show bodies and body parts on the street, and blood seemingly everywhere.
She ran back, knelt beside a little girl who was struggling while someone tried to attend to a ravaged leg. She asked the child’s name, brushed the side of her face with a hand, said she would help find her parents, that things would be ok. Because she came back, because she kept a little girl from being alone in her pain and terror, that lady brought calm to chaos, hope to fear, strength and honor to a scene that had been ripped of both in a moment of explosion. She helped a little girl.
The little girl, who lost one leg, was the younger sister of an 8-year-old boy who died at the scene. Their mother was badly injured, which was why she couldn’t help her daughter.
In Rome, soldiers once saluted each other before battle and said “Strength and Honor,” both to remind each other of what was most important in times of crisis and to help find those virtues again within themselves. We don’t expect to need either in dramatic fashion on a warm Spring holiday, but how wonderful that so many people found honorable strength in a moment of destructive, dishonorable horror.
It is the middle-age lady who looks like me, the man who had lost his own son in war who helped others’ family members throughout the triage and evacuation process, the runners who jogged past the finish straight to hospitals to warn about the disaster and give blood if possible, who point out in simplest terms that Roman virtues are alive and well in most of us, waiting to be called out. We just need to remember that an honorable intention without acting on a sense of honor is useless and strength without honor can be tremendously destructive.
Whatever your challenge, may you find strength and honor. God placed both in our hearts when He created us in His image. It is our decision every day whether we nurture or abandon them.