98% of the time we stand by idly and watch life go by. When we see a tragedy or injustice on the news, we say “what a shame” and then we flip the channel and proceed to do NOTHING about it, as we expect someone else will step up and help. There’s an actual psychological term for this. It’s called bystander apathy.
This phenomenon refers to cases in which individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim when other people are present. The probability of help is inversely related to the number of bystanders. In other words, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help.
But a year ago, when a bomb exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon this nation made a collective decision that we were not going to be bystanders. Ariana Vargas was one of these people. Ariana had attended Boston College for undergrad and when the bomb hit, word spread quickly that one of her BC classmates Patrick Downes and his new wife Jessica had each lost a leg in the explosion. Over the course of their lifetimes, their injuries would cost them nearly $1million. Whispers were going around between BC alumni asking what they could do to help but no one was sure what to do or who should step up. Without hesitating, Ariana who hadn’t stayed in touch with Patrick since graduating, started a GiveForward page. Word spread quickly and within a few weeks, tens of thousands of people from around the country had contributed close to $900,000 and left thousands of comments on Patrick and Jessica’s GiveForward page letting them know that they were loved and that they weren’t alone. It was magical, the kind of experience that makes you realize that we live in a world filled with wonderful people.
Today, with the help of thousands around the world, Patrick and Jessica are on their way to recovery and will be able to live without the stress and burden of medical debt for the rest of their lives.
If Ariana had decided to be a bystander that day, none of this would have happened.
While this is a remarkable story in itself, the most amazing part about this story is that Ariana’s act of courage didn’t stop with Patrick and Jessica. A couple weeks ago, Jeff Martin, a Michigan State fan living in Virginia read a story by Joe Rexrode in the Detroit Free Press about the friendship between Michigan State star basketball player, Adreian Payne and 8-year-old Lacey Holsworth who was fighting cancer. Jeff didn’t know Lacey or Adreian personally but when he read in the article that the family was raising money for Lacey’s medical bills, Jeff decided he wasn’t going to be a bystander.
So he started a GiveForward page for Lacey with a modest goal of $2000 and low expectations.
A few days after Jeff started the fundraiser, I had stumbled across his page. The story was beautiful and it hit me right in the heart. I emailed Jeff and asked him what motivated him to start a page for a family he didn’t know. And here’s the amazing part — he told me that a year ago he had donated to a fundraiser on GiveForward for a couple named Pat and Jess who had been injured in the Boston Marathon. Seeing people across the country come together for Pat and Jess inspired Jeff, and so he decided there was nothing stopping him from doing the same thing for someone else.
Ariana’s act of courage had a ripple effect.
As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one touched by Lacey and Adreian’s story. Within a week, the whole world would know the story of their friendship. The story was picked up everywhere from CNN to the Today Show to Good Morning America and Jeff’s GiveForward page quickly hit $25,000 then $50,000, and then $75,000. For two weeks we all clicked on the adorable pictures and videos of Lacey and Adreian. We cheered every time Adreian dunked and the TV camera panned over to Lacey cheering during the Mich St. games in Madison Square Garden. It didn’t matter what college you normally rooted for. For a brief moment in time, it felt like the whole world had become Michigan St fans.
And then like that, Michigan St lost to UCONN in the Elite Eight and a few days later Lacey was gone. Cancer took her life on April 9th.
That morning I got an email from a co-worker at 6 AM with subject line “Sad News. Lacey passed Away.” An hour later, I got a text from my mom with the same bad news. I read the article on CNN and couldn’t help but cry. As quickly as she had entered our lives, she was taken from us.
But in the short two weeks that Lacey was part of our lives, in this weird way, I felt like I knew her. We all felt that way. She managed to touch our hearts so profoundly and teach the entire world about courage, love and the true meaning of friendship.
I am thankful that Lacey entered my life for a brief moment. And I’m equally thankful for Jeff for having the courage to start the GiveForward page. He didn’t know Lacey’s family and he had no idea what would happen once he started the page. They could have reacted horribly or been offended by his gesture. He took a risk that he would fall flat on his face, but he did it anyway, because on that day, he decided he wasn’t going to be a bystander.
Because he had the courage to take that risk, the world was better for it.
And I think that is awesome. So, today on the anniversary of the Boston marathon bombing, I encourage everyone for this one day to stop being a bystander. Let’s honor those who lost their lives by pledging to live ours to the fullest.
Yes, it can be scary to live life out on the limb and put ourselves into a position of uncertainty where we might face rejection or failure. But if we can train ourselves to live a little further out on that limb, even if it’s just for one day every year, we’ll start to see that life on the limb is where all the magic happens. All the highs and lows of life, all the moments that make life worth living, they all happen when we stop being bystanders.
On April 15th, 2014 I’m choosing to live out on the limb. For the next 24 hours, I hope you do too.