Now let us praise unsung heroes: A personal thank you
Feb. 28, 2001
There are a number of wonderful things about retirement. One of them is more four day weekends. Monday found us hustling back toward Meridian along I-20. Laptops are snazzy machines. And my blueberry iBook is among the most zippy.
I had almost completed a report of a recent conversation with my mildly opinionated friend. The topic was pardons and government corruption. She had pounced on me Tuesday or Wednesday at lunch. Spoiled a wonderful meal.
But as we rolled through Tuscaloosa the afternoon sun proclaimed it was time to stifle the iBook. Old eyes and bold glare combined with the general malaise I feel when trying to recount our depressing encounters.
Fat Tuesday would offer sufficient time to purge her language and polish my reactions. But as they say, the best laid plans are bad to foul up. Or something more or less along those lines. Monday night's unveiling ceremony of The Meridian Star's By the People edition prompted me to shelve my buddy's railing about public scandal.
I was touched by a much better, more profound topic. Good people.
You may not be aware of how easy it is for journalists to become cynical. Consider. The grime and slime of the human experience feed the public's appetite for "news." Crime, conflict and violence are newsworthy. And journalists, the good ones, are people who are driven to tell others "news."
Add to that the challenge of reporting on public figures, political and nonpolitical. Reporters who are less than worldly-wise find themselves struggling to separate fact and fiction as presented by those inhabiting the stages of public life.
The most difficult part of the game of telling "all about it" is gathering information. One of the unwritten rules of every bureaucracy is, "Thou shall hide facts or at least make information unintelligible." And of course every public official is always right. Only shortstops and proof readers make errors.
Information always spins in an orbit centered on the perspective of the politically chosen. Somehow the "leader" and the "followers" see events from varying perspectives. And can you believe that public officials, like emperors, do not like it suggested that they are not wearing the girdle of righteousness.
Thus scarred by the slings and arrows of the information gathering process, reporters tend toward becoming calloused and cynical. And, of course, editors tend to be drawn from the ranks of reporters who desire to take their skepticism to the next level. Suzanne and Buddy excepted, of course.
I don't know if the By the People edition helped mellow any of the newsroom denizens beyond yours truly. Monday evening's unsung hero recognitions brought me very powerful reminders of the power of servanthood.
The people recognized were not folks seeking recognition. They were people seeking to serve others. In fact, several were very reluctant participants in the program. But individually and collectively these are individuals who work quietly in the background to help brighten the particular corners where they are.
The stories of their engagement with people were as varied as this diverse community we call east Mississippi or Meridian. And as I listened to the nominations prepared by their friends and neighbors I was reminded that "small, unnumbered, acts of kindness" are the backbone of a civilized society.
I've been blessed to have personal association with three of the unsung heroes. I am among those who have been encouraged by Skeeter Lang for more years than I'll report. Ray Hosley and I worked together at MJC long before it became MCC. And somewhere near the top of welcome newsroom guests is Marvin Weir.
World War II, the Korean "conflict," and the Vietnam era are represented in the experiences of this trio. Consideration of others is a hallmark of these kind and gentle heroes. Their commitment to community and to others is a challenging model for all of us.
The unsung hero pantheon included people I did not know but who were cited for ongoing acts of compassion. Eula Miller, Martha Janie Stennis, Beverly Trotter, Bruce Saterfiel and Bea and Dick Reynolds are models of neighborly concern. Their communities are better places because of their quiet and unassuming care for others.
Reaching out to people in need requires courage. Unsung hero Tracy Waddell's life saving action in the wake of an automobile accident is a very concrete example of caring and courage in action.
It's not geometry but there is progression of influence. Good people make good neighborhoods. And caring acts within neighborhoods create good communities. These unsung heroes served to remind me that goodness, kindness and courage in action transforms individuals and communities.
Those of us not directly touched by these particular individuals are touched by their service to our community. And by example we are reminded of our mutual responsibilities. One of those brother's keeper things. Good people answering the call of service to others. Each of us and all of us can learn from their example.
Sometimes "thank you" is all one can say.
Bill Scaggs is president emeritus at Meridian Community College and a senior consulting editor for The Meridian Star. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.