Strangers Helping Strangers – Our Finest Hours

Today as I write this, the world is engulfed in the tragedy of a global pandemic, COVID-19. And a beleaguered as the world is, it’s essential we remember the stories of those who go beyond their own selves to help others and thereby help to heal the world. 

50 years ago, on April 11, 1970, Apollo 13, with 3 astronauts aboard, took off for a moon landing. They never made it. An explosion on board crippled the spacecraft, depriving it of most of its oxygen and electrical power, and the trio of Americans was in a life and death situation. The entire world watched, glued to their tv sets for a couple of days, as this real space adventure movie, began to unfold. 

The Hollywood movie, APOLLO 13, depicting the landing was made much later in 1995, directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks and Keven Bacon.

Gene Tranz, former fighter pilot and NASA flight director of the mission, worked around the clock with his team in Houston, to rescue the astronauts and bring them back to earth. During these tense hours, Gene overheard a team member sigh that this may be “the worst disaster that NASA ever experienced.” Gene Tranz was heard to respond. “With all due respect, I believe this is going to be our finest hour.

And now, 50 years later, we are all living through our own crisis (during this COVID-19 pandemic). And just like Apollo 13 miraculously made a safe return, we too shall overcome. We will eventually turn this dark period into light.

Let’s be honest: we all owe an enormous amount of gratitude to countless unnamed strangers. From the grocery store employees to delivery drivers, to the first responders, and the doctors and nurses, who put their lives in jeopardy every day.  Strangers are helping strangers. 

And why do they do it? Because they see a need and so they do what needs to be done! 

As the occasion calls for some storytelling, here is a travel story that is so appropriate to share today, as a concrete example of strangers just doing their jobs and yet making a difference in our lives.

Two business partners, let’s just call them Mike and Ike were flying first-class from New York to Houston, for a very important meeting. The doors closed, and the announcement came on the public address, instructing the passengers to put all phones in airplane mode. As Mike reached into his pocket to turn off his phone, he yells out, “Oh NO! I left my phone at the charging station at the gate”. That was that. The entire trip was of no value. Mike’s whole life was on that phone. His car rental info, the hotel reservation, the client’s phone number, and address, and, most importantly, his entire PowerPoint presentation. The whole trip was in vain. 

Just then, as one of the flight attendants was walking by to take his seat, Mike grabs his sleeve and informs him that he left his phone at the terminal. Mike asks the flight attendant if he could please contact the gate agent to put it in “lost and found” for him to retrieve when he returns to New York the next day. About 10 minutes later, the flight attendant returns and gives Mike his phone and charger, and tells him, “next time, don’t forget your phone.”

Mike and Ike couldn’t understand how this was possible and after the plane was airborne, Ike asked the flight attendant what happened. The flight attendant explained:

“I informed the pilot of the missing cell phone; the pilot informed the air traffic controller during his take-off communication. The controller called the gate agent, the gate agent retrieved the phone and charger and walked outside to the tarmac and handed it to a ground crew member and explained that the pilot of Flight number 1234 needed the phone. The ground crew member drove the scissor-lift catering truck to the aircraft, lifting the scissor-lift level with the pilot’s flight deck window. The pilot opened the window and retrieved the phone. The flight attendant accepted the phone from the pilot and returned it to Mike.”

Five strangers all doing a small act of consecutive kindness that resulted in saving a business meeting (and possibly a significant opportunity) for a 6th stranger. These are all regular folks, not spending any money, only doing their job but making a big difference in the world, at least in the world of one person.

And in another story of strangers helping strangers, Bob Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots used some of his own money to contribute to the cause during this pandemic. He arranged for the purchase of 1.7 million N-95 face masks from China at the cost of millions of dollars. He also sen the Patriots team plane, a 767 wide-body jet aircraft to retrieve the t masks and bring them back to Boston. 

Amazingly, he not only distributed the coveted masks to Boston hospitals but in a true act of kindness also sent hundreds of thousands of masks to New York hospitals to help the fans of their rival football teams the New York Giants and Jets. 

Not only will this gift directly help the medical staff that desperately need masks, but it will give a much-needed morale boost to the entire community-at-large, which is so important during such a disheartening time for so many. 

Look, the truth is: destruction is raging all around the world through this pandemic. People are losing their jobs, their health insurance, their loved ones, and, in some cases, their own lives. And there seems to be two options in how to react to this crisis. We can all fall into a deep morose and question what will be? We can be afraid and panic and continuously watch the news until we break. But I think that there’s another option: let’s not fall into despair. Let’s not ask what will be?  

Instead: Let’s ask what we will do? How can we help? What can we do to have an impact on even one life? 

Let us continue to do what we know needs to be done.

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