With a steady stream of bad news stories about maimed soldiers, the Boston Marathon bombing and the house of horrors in Cleveland, it would be natural to despair for the human condition. What defect in the human character allows us to do such things?
But the survivors of these terrible ordeals tell a different story, one of courage, strength, determination and hope. It is the story of the indomitable human spirit.
Iraq war veteran Army Sgt. Brendan Marrocco lost his arms and legs to a roadside bomb in 2009. Not satisfied with his prosthetic arms, Marrocco took a major risk by opting to become the first soldier to receive an arm transplant. The 13-hour double transplant surgery was the first ever performed at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and only the seventh to be performed in the United States.
Just days after his surgery, Marrocco's spirit and sense of humor were on display when he met with reporters.
Comparing himself to his favorite character in the Harry Potter books, he called himself "the boy who lived."
"I never really accepted the fact I didn't have arms," Marrocco said, "Now I have them back, and it's like I went back four years and I'm me again. It's a second chance to start over after I got hurt."
At last report, Marrocco's progress is astounding his physical therapists. While it will be two or three years before he has full sensation in his arms, Marrocco told Stars and Stripes his new arms give him hope for the future.
Race to run
Issaquah native Adrianne Haslet is displaying similar courage and determination in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. A professional dancer, Haslet lost her left foot in the attack. While such a tragedy would understandably devastate most of us, the 32-year old Haslet is determined not to let it ruin her life. "I absolutely want to dance again and I also want to run the marathon next year," she told the Associated Press. "I will crawl across the finish line, literally crawl, if it means I finish it."
Speaking about her ordeal, she told a Seattle television station, "I just want people to know that you can come out of a situation that might seem like the end of the world and come out stronger."
That same strength of will miraculously sustained Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, who escaped recently from their decade-long captivity in a Cleveland home. The three were kidnapped as young girls, abused and tortured for more than 10 years. It may take years for them to fully recover, but amazingly, they emerged from that house of terror with awe-inspiring strength and presence of mind.
As we despair of the violence people wreak upon each other, we should also remember the selflessness, courage and compassion people show. Thousands of first responders rushed into the Twin Towers on 9/11, driven by a sense of professional duty and human compassion. One of them, off-duty firefighter Steven Siller, ran almost two miles through the closed Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel wearing 60 pounds of gear to join the rescue attempt. Siller perished that day, along with more than 400 other first responders.
When we think of the Boston bombings, we should also remember the sight of scores of medical personnel and volunteers immediately rushing toward the blast zone, with no thought for their own safety.
We face many challenges today, but rather than think of ourselves as victims, we should emulate those who confront tragedy and violence with courage, refusing to be beaten, determined to prevail.
That indomitable human spirit is our greatest asset and our greatest hope.
Don Brunell is president of the Association of Washington Business, Washington state's chamber of commerce. Visit http://www.awb.org