Most of us begin our day with thoughts of where we plan to go and what we plan to do. Sometimes (rarely) all goes exactly according to plan. Then there are those days when fate swoops in and shoots our plans into a life altering tailspin. On those days, if the situation and our heart allow, an act of compassion and kindness can shine a light of hope that revives another person’s soul.
Case and point Antoinette Tuff. By now you’ve probably heard of her. She’s a bookkeeper at a suburban Atlanta elementary school who is hailed as a hero and rightly so! Last week when Antoinette came face-to-face with 20-year-old Michael Hill who was off his medication for a mental disorder and armed with an AK47 and 500 rounds of ammo she kicked into overdrive using her brains and her heart to save the lives of hundreds of students, teachers and staff at the school. No mass shooting on this day thanks to Antoinette.
Instead of being a victim, during the brief stand-off in the school office, 46- year-old Antoinette steeled her nerves and dove into “mom,” “big sister,” “best friend,” and “real person” survival mode to connect with Hill on a human level making him feel relevant and loved. Tuff got real. She talked to him about the numerous heartbreaks in her own life including having a multiple disabled son and a painful divorce that left her wanting to commit suicide. She showed Hill he wasn’t alone. She made him feel like he mattered. She made him realize that no matter how bad his life looked at that moment he could still overcome. She used the love in her heart to toss Hill a lifeline of hope.
(Antoinette’s 911 call: http://slate.me/19LOG2a)
The recording of Antoinette’s dramatic 911 call is mind blowing. Her smart, quick and clear thinking allowed police to safely evacuate the children from their classrooms while she gently coaxed Hill’s thoughts away from murder to surrender. During the ordeal she kept a smooth conversation going with Hill and the 911 dispatcher. Experienced FBI hostage negotiators are singing Antoinette’s praises. They say Antoinette’s tone of voice and the matter a fact way she spoke to Hill discouraged him from predatory behavior. All very true. However after listening to the recording it’s clear to me that the love and caring Antoinette displayed overshadowed her fears allowing her to connect. There was indeed a divine presence and a sweet spirit in that room.
Likewise there was a guardian spirit on the Golden Gate Bridge in March of 2005 when Kevin Berthia climbed over the railing ready to jump to his death. The guardian came in the form of California Highway Patrol Officer Kevin Briggs. It wasn’t Berthia’s day to die. Officer Briggs, known as “The Guardian of the Golden Gate,” listened as the depressed and distressed young man poured out his troubles. Officer Briggs’, a twenty plus year veteran, responded from the heart with enough care and kindness to save yet another life.
That was eight years ago. Today Berthia is happily married and the father of two. What makes this story even sweeter is that Berthia and Briggs, who hadn’t seen each other since 2005, recently had an incredible and emotional reunion. Berthia presented Briggs with an award at a public service ceremony organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to honor the lives saved by the CHP. What really touched me is comparing the pictures of the emotionally defeated Berthia on the bridge, to the healthy, confident and happy man he appears to be today. Hard to believe he ever felt like life wasn’t worth living.
( Briggs & Berthia’s story: http://yhoo.it/13KBlR8)
Both stories and the incredible people in them are amazing examples of how a genuine expression of kindness and compassion gives way to the kind of hope that can spin a person into a positive life changing transformation. No doubt stories like this happen, on some level, every day. So, I raise my glass, tip my hat and give an “It Ain’t Ova! salute” to all of you soldiers stepping into your greatness by winning battles and spreading hope with love and kindness. You know who you are!