Events in the news often make us shake our heads and sometimes literally make us sick to our stomachs. Yesterday was one of those days. The collective shock and horror in reaction to a madman entering a school and murdering innocent children and their teachers was palpable.
I didn’t hear the news until the middle of the afternoon yesterday. I was interviewing Major Richard “Ritchie” Ojeda for the Voices of War project—my effort to collect the memories and thoughts of West Virginians who served their country in war. We sat down to talk a little after 10 a.m. and didn’t finish until after 1 p.m. That interview has buoyed me up in ways that I can’t describe. I left Ritchie’s home in Holden, Logan County, feeling great. While the news of the day brought me back down to reality, I didn’t crash as far as I might have.
Ritchie is an amazing man, having worked his way up from being a self-described “knucklehead” as a kid, to a sergeant in the army who then returned home to West Virginia to earn a degree and then back to the army where he has risen to the rank of Major (and will mostly likely be promoted again in the near future). He served four tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan along with a deployment to Haiti after the earthquake. He’s done it all with exuberance–“Airborne!” is his reply to everything.
While Ritchie deserves every bit of recognition he has (and will) received for his service to the country he loves, what really amazed me was what he has done in Logan. When he saw the poverty and decay in his hometown, he set to work doing what he could to improve the situation. Among other things Ritchie has created Logan Empowerment Action and Development (LEAD) Community Organization to restore community pride. He’s seen the worst poverty and inhumanity the world has to offer and remains optimistic and motivated to do what he can.
Last night, watching the news from Newtown Connecticut, I saw an interview with Kaitlin Roig, one of the teachers in the school. I choked up when she said she told her students “There are bad guys out there now. We just have to wait for the good guys.” When faced with horror like we saw yesterday, we all want the good guys to come and save us.
We’ve all heard the phrase “uncommon valor” referring to people who go over and above to serve and protect. Faced with evil like we saw in Newtown, it certainly makes me doubt humanity. On the other hand, I think of people like Ritchie or any number of other people I know who do what they can to help each other every day and realize that there really are a lot of “good guys” out there. There are heroes doing their jobs every day; people who simply want things to be better than yesterday.
I’m grief-stricken for the parents and families in Newtown, Connecticut. As a father, I can’t think of anything but my own daughters right now. I’m worried about them and how they’re reacting to the news. I’ve said many prayers for them (and the people of Connecticut) and will say many more.
I’m relieved to know that there are people like Kaitlin Roig and Ritchie Ojeda in the world though. They aren’t asking for anything in return other than an opportunity to live their lives in peace. Yesterday, we saw the worst in the world. It would be easy to question everything and everyone in that grief.
On the other hand, in comparison, I realize “valor” is more common than I might have previously thought. There are good guys out there. We just have to lift them up.