Earlier today I had to run to the store so I hopped in my car and began driving. I came to a red light and stopped. I sat there feeling anxious because I’d caught the light and had to sit there wasting more of my precious time. Then I chanced to see a man walking along the sidewalk toward the intersection. He was dressed in a suit and had on a pair of sunglasses. He also had a long, white cane that he extended out before him, sweeping back and forth, as he walked. My light was still red and cars were whizzing by in front of me on the busy, perpendicular street. The blind man was walking parallel to that street and thus had the green light. I wondered if he somehow knew that.
Apparently he did because, without hesitation, he began to walk across. He had a confident gait and crossed the street with as much assurance as if he’d been able to see everything clearly. I watched as the prehensile cane explored the curb, alerting him to step up. My light was still red, and he turned precisely at the juncture of the sidewalk, took a few more steps, and then turned left and went toward the church on the corner. He ascended the steps with such ease that I marveled at his confidence. I wondered if he’d been counting a set number of footfalls he’d committed to memory.
The light changed as he crested the stairs and pulled open the front doors. I shifted into gear, inspired by this man’s courage and temerity. I wondered if I would have enough courage to venture into the world without the benefit of being able to see. It was a scary thought, but nothing compared to the risk that man took every time he strolled along a busy street without hesitation. Could he hear well enough to detect an approaching car? He obviously had an enormous amount of courage, and wasn’t afraid to take risks to lead the kind of life he wanted. Risk takers often are inspirational figures.
Last weekend I heard Neil Armstrong’s ashes were scattered at sea. There was a risk taker for you. Imagine being strapped to the nose of an enormous rocket and launched upward through the atmosphere, and then jettisoned off in the vastness of space to pilot a small craft all the way to the moon. Take a look up at the dark sky and think about being up there so high that the earth looked about the size of a tennis ball. “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” Armstrong said as he became the first man to set foot on the moon. He and his partner, Buzz Aldrin, played “Fly Me to the Moon.” as they moved over the lunar surface and placed the American flag on the dusty surface. Like I said, risk takers are inspirational. Those two men certainly were.
I’ve been inspired by many other brave individuals throughout my life . . . My dad, who gave up some of the best years of his youth in the service of his country during World War II . . . My mom’s courageous battle with cancer years later, which she knew she couldn’t win . . . Mr. Andrew Vachss, who continues to dedicate his life to defending and protecting the innocence of children from predators . . . Officers Dave Gryczewski, Fred Newstat, and Dwight Turcol who rushed into a burning nursing home with me one midnight shift and repeatedly carried one patient after another to safety. We technically were out of our jurisdiction and never received any official accolades or recognition for that one, but I felt inspired by their selflessness and courage. We stood outside afterward, coughing and hacking outside the smoldering structure, our faces blackened by the smoke. We’d taken the risk, and we knew we’d done our best. That was our reward. One man, whose mother was a patient in the home, later came up to us to say thanks. “You guys are real heroes,” he said. “You’re an inspiration.”
So like the intrepid little bird building the nest, or the confident blind man crossing the street, inspiration comes from many sources. It’s all around us if we look. It’s part of that indefinable quality that keeps us moving forward.