Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

Rescue Fantasies

The emotional power of 60 Minutes tonight went deeper than a disaster story with a happy ending--the safe ditching of Flight 1549 in the Hudson River with 155 passengers and crew. In a time of fear and anxiety, it affirmed a powerful collective belief that, against all odds, human beings can save themselves and others from disaster.

The retelling of that story was ironically interrupted by commercials for a CBS reality series, celebrating the more dominant values of our time, competition and self-survival, as a counterpoint to the feat of the pilot and crew (along with the river rescuers) of taking responsibility for the lives of so many strangers.

With 9/11, Katrina and social upheaval, this has not been a good age for the rescue fantasies that coexist in all of us along with the selfish instincts that get so much more attention. But a reunion of the Flight 1549 crew with passengers and their families underscores how far and wide the saving of a life reaches into the world.

The pilot, Chesley Sullenberger, told of a woman who "came up to me and said, 'Thank you for not making me a widow. Thank you for allowing my three-year-old son to have a father.'"

Another passenger showed him a picture of himself with his niece, the child of his brother, a firefighter killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11. "And he told me, he didn't think that his family could take losing a second son."

The meaning of it all was summed up in a letter to the pilot:

"Yesterday I received a voicemail from my 84-year-old father who lives on the 30th floor of a building with river views here in Manhattan. Had you not been so skilled, my father or others like him in their sky-high buildings could have perished along with your passengers...As a Holocaust survivor my father taught me that to save a life is to save a world as you never know what the person you’ve saved nor his or her prodigy will go on to contribute to the peace and healing of the world."

There couldn't be a better time in our national life for hearing that.

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