A Phoenix Rises

Today’s story centers around one of my favorite quotes:

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we respond to it. The remarkable thing is, we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past. We can not change the fact that people act in a certain way. We can not change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude.”


This simple philosophy can be hard to follow… especially in the face of tragedy. But sometimes the worst tragedies can bring forth the most heartwarming attitudes, and stories of love and hope.

Take the people of Greensburg, Kansas.

A little more than a year ago— on a May night in 2007 — a massive 2-mile-wide tornado ripped through the small town, leveling nearly 95 percent of the town’s buildings, and taking eleven lives.

At the time, the stories on the news were heartbreaking. Everyone in the town was affected by it. The tornado spared no one. Those who didn’t lose their homes lost loved ones and friends. Others lost both. Most people lost everything they had ever known. The devastation was so extensive that many in the media found themselves asking residents the questions, “Will you rebuild? Can you rebuild? And why? Why not just move to another town after such a huge loss?”

From the very beginning, the answers were always the same:

Yes, we will rebuild.
Yes, we can rebuild.
We will rebuild because this is our home.
We will not move because we refuse to lose our community.

Almost immediately, help began pouring in.

First came the donations of food, bottled water and clothing. So much came from so many places…. the town eventually had no place to put it all.

Next, the money started trickling in. Federal aid, state aid, help from organizations, businesses, universities, elementary schools, even kids who donated funds from their piggy banks. All of this added up to millions of dollars. Millions to help the town of 1,500 people get back on its feet.

Soon after that came the building supplies. Chainsaws, lumber, tools, generators, even donated trucks were ending up on the city’s doorstep.

The townsfolk put the donations to good use. Most of the community has yet to be rebuilt, but changes are already evident. As the town’s website states, “Everyday in Greensburg there is something new happening. We have over 140 new homes in progress and several businesses on Main Street that are in the process of building.” A new town is rising from the ashes.

But even more important than the buildings, are the connections that have been made since the tornado struck. People in Greensburg now feel connected to the rest of the world who helped them out in their time of need. And the bonds have strengthened within the community as well. As 17-year-old Taylor Schmidt told a reporter with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “We helped each other out, grieved with each other, celebrated with each other and worshipped with each other. We rebuilt the town as one voice, one community.”

(Note: Another interesting thing to note— the town of Greensburg is making sure that all of its new buildings are not only stronger, but also environmentally friendly. It hopes to become an example to other communities around the country. Discovery Channel’s newest channel, Planet Green, is hosting a series on the rebuilding of Greensburg, Kansas starting June 13.)

A Split Second Decision

NOTE: Chances are you’ve heard about this story before. It was all over the news when it happened. Still, it’s a good to hear it every once in a while— to remind us all that even in the midst of tragedy, there are signs of positive light in the world. 🙂

Wesley Autrey is a construction worker, a union man, a Navy veteran, and in the eyes of many, a hero.

The 50-year-old father was with his two young daughters, ages four and six, on a subway platform in Manhattan, when a young man nearby started having a seizure.

After 19-year-old Cameron Hollopeter fell, Autrey and two women rushed to help. Hollopeter managed to get up, but then stumbled off the edge of the platform onto the subway tracks below.

Just then, the unthinkable happened. A train rounded the corner, headed for the station.

Autrey barely had time to think. His experience as a construction worker gave him an idea of how much room he and Hollopeter might have if he could somehow lay on top of the convulsing man in the foot-deep trough between the tracks.

A split second later, he took a leap of faith. Literally.

Horrified onlookers watched as Autrey jumped from the platform onto Hollopeter and held him down between the tracks.

The train was unable to stop in time. It screeched to a halt only after several cars had passed over the two men.

Amazingly, the next sound they heard was Autrey’s voice. Saying he and Hollopeter were okay, and that he wanted someone to make sure his two daughters were all right.

When asked about it later, Autrey simply said, “It ain’t about being a hero, it was just being there and helping the next person. That’s all I did.”

"X" Marks the Spot

Crime plays a big role on the news. Crime coverage is a touchy subject among serious journalists, who would rather be doing issue-oriented stories instead of the latest shooting or assault.

All too often, news organizations will cover the actual crime, but unless it’s a major case, will not follow up to see how things ended. This is troubling, because it can give viewers the sense that the world is full of violence, without showing how in some cases, lives have been turned around as a result of a criminal’s actions.

Or in some cases, the criminal’s life is affected by his (or her) own crime.

30-year-old Roberto Caveda was a master burglar. Among his “loot,” a $10 million Degas painting and $2 million in jewelry.

In 2006, he was arrested by police officers. They suspected he had committed at least 80 burglaries throughout the state of California. Many assumed he had fenced the stolen items and kept the money.

The trial was long and involved, with victim after victim testifying how losing their valuables affected them personally. Caveda was convicted in 2007.

A few months later, he handed his attorney a piece of paper. It was a hand-drawn map with a big “X” marked on a San Fernando Valley freeway underpass. The map also included detailed measurements — marking in meters how far down authorities should dig.

Police say they were shocked when they followed the map’s instructions, and found much of Caveda’s loot hidden in a 2-foot long black plastic pipe.

His attorney was shocked too. After all, Caveda could have kept silent about the stash, served his time in prison, and then retrieved the items after his release.

Instead, his attorney told a reporter, “He felt it was the right thing to do. He’s been telling me how bad he felt after seeing all of these old people testify.”

Authorities are now returning the stolen valuables to their rightful owners.

Saved by a Stranger

A little girl needed a miracle.

Sarah Dickman was born with a genetic disease called juvenile nephronophthisis. The disease slowly destroys the kidneys, and can take the life of a child before he or she reaches the age of 15.

The Atlanta girl was only eight, but she needed a new kidney. She had just been placed on dialysis, and her condition was getting worse by the day.

Neither of her parents were a good match. Sarah’s name was already on a national waiting list, but no matches had been determined. So as a last ditch effort, her parents put up flyers around their community. They knew there was little chance of finding a suitable donor that way. But they wanted to give their little girl every chance they could.

34-year-old Laura Bolan saw the flyer at the elementary school where Sarah and two of Laura’s children attend class. Her heart melted when she saw the girl’s smiling face.

Laura noted that she had the same blood type as the little girl. She talked to her own family, and called the Dickmans later that night.

Two people called in about the flyer, but Laura was the better match. And she didn’t even hesitate. As she told a reporter, “It breaks your heart to know there’s a little girl sick out there who you could help.”

The two underwent successful surgery in February.

Sarah’s parents say they are not only eternally indebted to Laura, they also plan to pay the favor forward. Her father, Joe became a living donor as a result of the sacrifice a stranger made for his child… knowing he might one day have the same opportunity to save a life.

A Parable of the Talents

For many people, making money simply doing something they love feels like it will never be more than a dream.

The Rev. Hamilton Coe Throckmorton helped every member of his congregation realize that dream was well within their reach— no matter who they were, what they did for a living, or how old they were.

It was in the name of charity, but turned out to be much more.

One Sunday, he delivered a sermon about the Parable of the Talents as told in the Book of Matthew. A master called three servants before him:

“To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.”
(Matthew 25:15-18 – New International Version)

The two who doubled their “talents” (a talent was actually a sum of money thought to be more than a $1,000) received much praise and reward from their master. The one who was too afraid to take a risk was punished.

Rev. Throckmorton had a plan. He wanted to give “talents” to his congregants, with the hope that they could find a way to double their money in seven weeks. The proceeds would be given to church missions.

A number of anonymous donors made the effort possible. The church had $40,000 in all.

Each of the church’s members received $50. And most were stunned.

This was a critical turning point for many people.

Most church members rolled up their sleeves and went to work. And the word “talent” took on a whole new meaning.

Some gave their services. A physician used his $50 to pay for gas to get to and from the hospital to take over shifts for his colleagues. The extra money he made and donated was $3,000. A retired Navy pilot used his money to rent air time in a Cessna. He made $700 offering 30-minute flights for $30 each.

Others exercised their creativity. Like the 58-year-old woman who took plain flip flops, beads, and yarn… and created decorative footwear that became a huge hit. She raised $550. A nine year old boy turned ordinary construction paper into magical origami art. He raised $68. An 87-year-old picked up a hammer and rediscovered his love for carpentry making and selling bird feeders.

And this was just the beginning.

A woman who made pendants from sea glass for her grandchildren over the years started to sell them, making $450.

An 81-year-old artist who specialized in painting… discovered a new talent making stuffed dolls. She made $90.

One family pooled their money with another family in the church to offer an elegant dinner party, complete with a professional harpist. They made $1,200.

The stories blossomed over the weeks. The congregation came together talking about their “talents” and what they had achieved.

When seven weeks had passed. The congregation brought back their original talents of $50…. and then some.

They more than doubled the amount originally distributed.

The money was split between three charities, who undoubtedly needed and welcomed the gift. But in that seven weeks, so much more than money was gained.

Businesses were started. Friends were gained. Lives were revitalized. And purpose was fulfilled.

A Pressing Question

“Why isn’t there ever any good news on television?”

During my 17 years as a journalist, this was by far the most commonly asked question I received from viewers.

The answer is a bit complicated.

First of all, there is some good news on television, it’s just usually buried beneath piles of bad news. And there is a lot of bad news in the world these days, unfortunately. So much so, that a lot of good news is being squeezed out because of time concerns. After all, with only a minute left in the newscast and a choice between the story of a mysterious stranger saving a family or the latest on a horrible train derailment— those in charge will choose the derailment 99% of the time.

It’s just the nature of the business. Time and time again the ratings indicate more viewers will stick around to watch the derailment.

It’s inevitable, but sad. Because there are a lot of good things happening in the world. Good people doing good deeds every day. We just don’t hear enough about them.

I wanted to be a journalist because I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to help people. I wanted to change lives. I remember one of the first reporters I ever “shadowed” when I was an eager, naive student took me aside one day and said, “Yeah, the stories that make a real difference…? You’ll do one— maybe two— a year.” I forged ahead, thinking he was wrong.

He wasn’t.

My reporting career was filled with tragic news. Fires, deadly shootings, horrible car wrecks. On a “good” day, it was filled with benign informational news: city council meetings, bridge repairs, new city ordinances.

Once in a while, a gem would appear. A sparkling diamond amongst the grains of sand on the beach. A chance to inspire and/or change lives.

Those stories always filled me with joy. So I feel compelled to share. Not just stories I reported on, but ones that appeared in newspapers and on TV… and were not given the time and attention that they deserved.

I hope these stories will fill your hearts with hope, and the knowledge that we do live in a wonderful world full of wonderful people.