I should start off this letter by explaining that our Sunday Service Committee decided that this year, we would try to follow the monthly ideas suggested by the Unitarian Universalist Association. The UUA offers a list of theme ideas for each month – words such as “Hope” or “Balance” – and supplies a great deal of literature and materials to congregations who would like to explore those concepts.
“What a great idea for my monthly letters”, I thought. “I can just write about my relationship to the UUA monthly theme!” It worked great for September – the theme was Welcome. It wasn’t too difficult to write about that. For the month of October, though, the theme is Courage. And it brought me up short. I don’t consider myself an especially courageous person. I feel like I muster exactly enough courage to make it through the challenges that life throws at me, with none to spare. What could I possibly offer to others about courage?
Then I remembered an essay that was written many years ago, which has always moved me. It was entitled “The Man in the Water”, and it was written by Roger Rosenblatt for Time Magazine. It was published on January 25, 1982. I was not surprised to find that it readily pops up when you Google the title. And yes, it was about courage. It was also about selflessness, and sacrifice, and being human.
For those who may not remember the event that precipitated this essay, let me share what I can recall (I can’t believe it’s been over 35 years). On a cold winter day in Washington, D.C., a jet took off from a local airport. Within a minute or so, one of the jet’s wings clipped a bridge girder, and the jet somersaulted into the Potomac River, breaking apart. Passengers were left desperately clinging to pieces of the wreckage, while rescue crews rallied to try to save them.
Lives were lost; heroes were made. But the most notable action came from one of the passengers, a mystery man whose name wasn’t even learned until days later. (This was long before the days of the TSA and identity checks. Air flight could be as anonymous as a train or bus ride.) This man, middle-aged, probably a businessman of some sort, was seen holding onto a piece of wreckage with other passengers. As a rescue helicopter lowered a lifeline directly to him, he passed it to another passenger. He did that again. And again. Finally, when the others with him were rescued, when it was his turn…he was gone. The icy waters had claimed him.
As this story came to light, as the essay I mentioned above was published, a saddened nation wondered about this man. Why did he do that? Was it courage? Was it faith? Rosenblatt’s essay posed the theory that, although this man had ultimately lost his life, he won the battle against the impersonal forces of nature. Without stopping to analyze or consider, he did what he felt he had to do.
My writing here can’t begin to equal Roger Rosenblatt’s powerful essay. I strongly urge you to go online, look up “The Man in the Water”, and read it for yourself. It never fails to affect me deeply, and it leaves me with hope. Courage, and compassion, is abundant within each of us.
Carol Moak, UUCP Board President