America: The Highlight Reel

Posted November 21, 2018 10:04 p.m. EST

Always, but particularly this autumn, which has vibrated with anxiety and discord, it is important to remember that Americans can be a people given to acts of selflessness.


Maj. Brent Taylor, a father of seven children and the mayor of North Ogden, Utah, was killed in Afghanistan on Nov. 3. A week earlier, in his final Facebook post, he wrote about the coming midterm elections: “I hope everyone back home exercises their precious right to vote. And that whether the Republicans or the Democrats win, that we all remember that we have far more as Americans that unites us than divides us.”

Taylor and his five brothers joined the military after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. His last deployment was his fourth.

Far from a war zone, on the evening after the election, Matt Wennerstrom huddled behind a pool table, lying on top of other people to protect them as a masked gunman rampaged through the Borderline Bar & Grill in Southern California.

“It’s my family,” he told a reporter afterward. “That’s what you do with your family.”

When Hurricane Florence lashed North Carolina in September, Amber Hersel drove 800 miles from her home in Indiana to help. Later, when she was asked about a photo taken of her rescuing a 7-year-old girl, Keiyana Cromartie, from the floodwaters, she described herself as “just your average mom.”

Allyn Pierce also came to the nation’s attention because of a photograph. Posted on Instagram, it showed his beloved white Toyota Tundra, charred black from the two trips that Pierce, a registered nurse, made into the maw of the Camp Fire in Paradise, California.

The flames, which melted parts of the truck, were so intense at one point that Pierce recorded a farewell message for his family, assuming he wouldn’t survive. “Just in case this doesn’t work out,” he said, “I want you to know I really tried to make it out.”

Juliana Vega-Zamora faced a crisis, too, as a fire tore through her apartment building in the town of Puyallup, Washington, southeast of Tacoma. Vega-Zamora described to reporters how she roused her 7-year-old and 15-month-old boys, tied them to blankets and lowered them out a second-story window into the waiting arms of neighbors. Then she went to the window herself and jumped.

And it was neighbors, again, who volunteered to honor the 11 Jews murdered by a gunman in their Pittsburgh synagogue by standing watch over their bodies around the clock, through cold October nights and frosty rain, until they were buried, following Jewish tradition.

Of course, for every known story of civic heroism or patriotism, there are countless more that change things for the better but never make the papers. The ethical stand taken when no one is watching. The rhythmic administration of CPR, the measured injection of naloxone. The moments when tragedy is avoided because humans have talked themselves or one another away from their own destructive impulses. The quiet advance of understanding when people pause to hear each other out.

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