Henri Nouwen said, “To die to our neighbors means to stop judging them, to stop evaluating them, and thus to become free to be compassionate. Compassion can never coexist with judgment because judgment creates the distance, the distinction, which prevents us from really being with the other. Often quite unconsciously we classify people as very good, good, neutral, bad, and very bad. These judgements influence deeply the thoughts, words, and actions. These self-created limits prevent us from being available to people and shrivel up our compassion.” Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers
Ten years ago, the 35W bridge collapsed and fell into the Mississippi river during rush hour traffic on August 1, 2007. I rarely drove across the 35W Bridge into Minneapolis, but a wrong turn had sent me over the bridge a few days earlier. Thirteen people died. Many were critically injured. More than one hundred forty people were transported to hospitals by pickup truck, cars and ambulances. As I look back, what strikes me most were the number of people who immediately jumped into action. Before First Responders could get there, bystanders were diving into the river, rescuing people trapped in their cars. They were just ordinary folks who happened to be there and knew they needed to help. That evening, no one worried about the political, ethnic or religious background of the injured or the rescuers. There were no questions about immigration status. All of that was immaterial.
I often get discouraged about the enmity between people in today’s society over race, religious faith or immigration status. Ten years ago, in that life or death moment after the bridge collapse, all judgements were suspended. What mattered was searching for survivors, breaking windows of submerged vehicles and pulling people from the river. What mattered was getting children off a school bus about to erupt in flames or tip into the river, to safety. What mattered was stabilizing an injury and offering comfort. People checked in with family and with friends they rarely talked to. It was one of our finer moments as we collectively worked together in the midst of a tragic event – evidence that if we choose to, we can be that again.