There Are Real-Life Superheroes Among Us

Challenge to Stay Optimistic

It’s easy to become jaded. As a physician, I have spent decades dealing with sickness. I have cared for people with intractable pain and addiction. I have witnessed their pain, and I have seen them suffer stigma, judgment, and rejection because of their disease. I’ve watched policymakers motivated by political concerns make things even more difficult for patients and the doctors who treat them. I have wondered how I could help.

Sometimes, it’s a challenge to stay optimistic, because there is unkindness and a lack of empathy in this world. There is selfishness and greed. Wars don’t occur because of benevolence.

Human Capacity to Do Good

That said, there also is an immense human capacity to do good. Here are a couple of recent examples.

The Washington Post reported that, on a Florida beach, six members of the same family were swept away by a riptide. They probably would have drowned were it not for the heroism of bystanders who heard the screams of people in trouble and took quick action.

Jean Simmons was one of those bystanders. In an interview she later gave to the Panama City News Herald, Simmons said the thoughts that occurred to her were, “These people are not drowning today. It’s not happening. We’re going to get them out.”

Some of the first bystanders who ran into the water to help found themselves also fighting for their lives. The Washington Post explains, “On shore, the human chain began forming, first with just five volunteers, then 15, then dozens more as the rescue mission grew more desperate.” Apparently, every able-bodied person who was on the beach that afternoon quickly joined the effort and linked hands to help.

“Nearly an hour after they first started struggling, just as the sun prepared to set, all 10 of the stranded swimmers were safely back on shore,” the story concludes.

Feeding Hungry Strangers 

When I heard about the actions of everyone involved in that rescue mission, a part of me felt a little bit less jaded. It brightened my day.

Then I read about another hero. “Man builds a food pantry on his lawn so the hungry can eat,” CNN‘s headline read. I clicked on the story about a Watertown, New York man named Roman Espinoza. An Army veteran, Espinoza is determined not to let anyone in his community go hungry, if he can help it.

He built a “blessing box” on his property, and he filled it with food items. Anyone in need would have access to the improvised food pantry.

Then something surprising occurred. He had expected hungry strangers to take the food they needed, but what he might not have anticipated was that the food pantry stayed full. His neighbors wanted to give something back, too. So, they banded together to keep the box filled with food and personal care items (toothpaste, soap, and so on).

Espinoza was moved to help strangers in need, and others followed his lead to make the community a better place. The upshot, according to Espinoza, is that he’s received requests from other people who want help establishing blessing boxes outside of their own homes. “With any luck, we’ll have a few around town where people can be made aware of them and make use of them,” he said.

Yes, there is a lot of pain and suffering in the world. Much of it is unnecessary, because it’s exacerbated by ignorance, selfishness, and greed.

But there are also incredibly kind people who work every day, in small and large ways, to make this world a better place for all of us. Maybe we should take a moment to appreciate their efforts. Gratitude can be healing, too.


  1. Andrea on July 17, 2017 at 9:35 am

    Funny… I wrote about an “every day Mom” and her superpowers this week. I spent a long time working in addictions and family violence and agree: it’s important to focus on the bravery and generosity around us. It rarely makes headlines. Grateful to connect with you.

  2. Kenneth Mckenna on July 17, 2017 at 9:17 pm

    It all starts with the man or woman in the mirror. Changing the negativity in the world is as simple as a kind word, a smile, or a random act of kindness. There is no higher purpose than service to others.

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