A picture appeared on the front page of the Boston Globe the day after the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon. In the background, someone was bending over an injured runner, administering care.
I looked closely at the picture and realized that "someone" was my brother Jack. Jack's been volunteering as an athletic trainer at the Boston Marathon for several years, and he was stationed at the finish line only yards from the scene of the first explosion. On the footage that ran over and over on TV that first night, you could see Jack -- just seconds after the blast occurred -- running toward, not away from, the blast.
Jack would say that he did what so many other first responders did, what so many other Americans, Bostonians, emergency medical personnel, soldiers, police, nurses and other caregivers did. He ran over to help -- not thinking about his own safety and giving no thought about whether the victims were runners or spectators, white or black, old or young, Democrats or Republicans. The whole red state/blue state thing doesn't mean much to Jack anyway, and I don't think it meant anything to anybody watching the horror that Monday afternoon.
Thomas Jefferson wrote once that "it's part of the American character to consider nothing as desperate." He wrote those words at a time when Boston was a city of heroes for completely different reasons -- for standing up to an oppressor, for hanging tough as the first "guerilla" fighters in modern military history. Today, Boston is a city of heroes again, this time of random Good Samaritans.
Speaking of Good Samaritans, I had a conversation with Fred Rogers, the great companion of children and the star of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," toward the end of his life. I thanked him for all the good ideas he had shared with our three then-little boys, and we talked about his influence on the lives of millions of other children. In his typically humble way, Mr. Rogers turned the conversation back to me. We had moved on to the topic of violence on TV and its effect on children.
Mr. Rogers asked about my experiences in Belfast, Northern Ireland, back in the 1970s and '80s, where I had seen some horrific violence not at all unlike what we recently witnessed in Boston -- only there the weapon of choice was "sugar and jelly" (gelignite) bombs, designed to literally "stick" to their victims. I asked him what could be his message for children when these sorts of scenes played themselves out over and over in our 24/7 news and media environment. And he had a simple answer -- one which he credited to his mother. He said that whenever he and others in his family encountered violence on the nightly news, his mother admonished them to "look for the helpers."
Look for the helpers, indeed. She meant it as a way to help them find their own way, emotionally, through the trauma of what at the time were unprecedented scenes of TV violence associated with the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. We hadn't seen such brutality up close and personal before in what was then the infancy of our now media-genic lives.
But I think Mr. Rogers offered good advice for today as well. Look for the helpers. And thank them.
Thank you, Jack.
Tom Foley is president of Mount Aloysius College in Cresson. His brother, Jack Foley, is assistant athletic director and director of sports medicine at Lehigh University in Bethlehem.