Rosemary McLeod praises the unsung everyday heroes among us

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1 January 1970

Reading Time: 3 minutes

From civilian sea rescues to filming police injustices, here’s why Rosemary still believes in the kindness of strangers – despite the current state of the world.

“Miracles occur in the strangest of places”, goes a Willie Nelson song – and he’s not wrong.

I once wrote about a group of heroes, ordinary New Zealanders who’d done remarkable things and been awarded bravery medals. They didn’t wear tights and fancy capes, but you’d be just as glad to meet them as if Superman swooped you to safety.

One was a farm worker who saved his boss’ life when a prize bull attacked him in a pen. He instantly leapt the fence and dragged the older man to safety. He’d be one of the humblest people I’ve met.

One man jumped into a freezing, flooded river at night to rescue the driver of a car he’d seen swept away, finding them just in time. He almost shrugged it off.

Maybe the most remarkable of the group was fireman Royd Kennedy, who crawled under a blazing petrol tanker to comfort a trapped 12-year-old girl who begged him not to leave her, while his colleagues brought the huge fire under control. In doing that, he broke rules about how firemen should behave and not everyone in that world was impressed. But if rules need to be broken sometimes, that was surely one of them.

Recently, other everyday heroes were involved in a sea rescue at Bream Bay, near Whangārei. Husband and wife Lewis and Alyssa Allen saved an exhausted man who’d clung to a jet ski for two hours in stormy seas and high winds. They didn’t hesitate to answer the mayday call, knowing they were the only people nearby, and Alyssa leapt into the water to bring him to safety, with Lewis’ help. By then the man had collapsed from exhaustion.

I read about rescues like that, of random strangers, and marvel. They’re a reassuring reminder that the better angels of human nature are still with us. On the other hand, one of my children had an accident recently and bled heavily on a footpath. To their astonishment, people walked past on the other side of the narrow suburban street, but no one stopped to help or even ask if they were OK. The urge to help is maybe not instinctive in everyone, which is all the more reason to give thanks for those who have it.

The urge to help is maybe not instinctive in everyone, which is all the more reason to give thanks for those who have it

In a similar situation, when I was about 10 years old, I saw a girl get hit by a car in a city street, landing on her head – and promptly fainted at the sight of so much blood. I’m mortified still that kind people had to tend to me as a distraction from her far more urgent need.

You can see why I so admire teenager Darnella Frazier, who took out her cell phone and filmed the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Anyone might have had the ability, while I would have fumbled and probably failed, but she had the presence of mind and a teenager’s technical skill. Largely thanks to her evidence, a now former policeman was found guilty of murder and awaits sentencing.

That was a verdict the world hoped for but couldn’t expect. Not in an America so recently all about Donald Trump, division, and law and order in its most negative sense. Not when American police seem to kill people with impunity.

Darnella’s nine-year-old cousin, too, was a compelling witness at the trial. This must be a special family, as is Royd Kennedy’s. His 81-year-old mother earned a bravery award when she tried to fight off a man attacking a neighbour with a samurai sword.

Darnella was attacked on social media for her part in Floyd’s tragedy. Trolls – today’s version of the poison pen letter writers of the past – never have anything good to say, but they’re always out there too.

To me, it’s always a miracle when courage and humanity tip the scales in the right direction, and I expect it quietly happens, unacknowledged and un-trolled, more often than we know.

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