The lessons to learn from quiet heroism
Published in: Daily Mail
Every once in a while, something emerges into the public eye which stops you in your tracks for a much needed reality check.
Public life is an unending parade of people either doing something unspeakable or at the very least making a complete mess of everything.
Lobbyists bribing ministers; police officers in the pockets of journalists, while newspaper executives are in the pockets of politicians; children’s homes which do nothing to prevent the children in their care being pimped as prostitutes; public service workers going on strike. And let’s not even think about abroad.
Frankly, it’s enough to make you want to resign from the human race.
Into the middle of this carnival of corruption, cynicism and cultural decline, however, there recently dropped two uplifting stories of quiet heroism.
The first was that of Claire Lomas, paralysed from the chest down following a horse-riding accident five years ago, but who, nevertheless, finished the London Marathon after 16 pain and exhaustion-racked days walking the 26-mile course.
Her doctors had told her she would never walk again. But with the aid of a bionic suit which gave her mechanical legs, she achieved something which would be beyond the capacity of most able-bodied people.
Not only that, she had also overcome obstacles of a less tangible but no less trying nature. After enduring the devastating impact of a boyfriend who had failed to support her when she needed him most after her accident, she married a man who did care for her — as a result of which she managed to gave birth to a baby daughter.
The second story was of Tina Nash who was left blind after boyfriend Shane Jenkins horrifically assaulted her, gouging out her eyes with his thumbs.
At first, said Ms Nash, she felt as if she had been ‘buried alive’, so great was her distress and despair at never again being able to see. But then she woke up one day and decided that as she only had one life, she just had to get on with it.
In a moving radio interview, she said she did not feel sorry for herself; she had taken charge of her life and felt confident and strong and ready for new challenges.
For those of us immersed in the raucous arena of politics and public affairs, these two stories surely provided a most salutary counterpoint. It was like looking at the world through the other end of a telescope.
Suddenly, that shallow and venal public world shrank into relative insignificance, and the people in it and all their activities seemed puny and irrelevant.
For the courage and resilience of these two women puts that pageant of self-important fools and rogues into very sharp perspective. This instead is, surely, what really matters — how we all live our lives, how we cope with the bad times as well as the good, whether we can all similarly find within ourselves such strength of character to overcome the most shattering adversity.
Until her riding accident, Claire Lomas was a four-star equestrian eventer — the highest status possible, achieved by only the most accomplished riders.
Tina Nash had two children, aged 14 and four, who depended upon her; and like all who are able to see, she presumably took that entirely for granted.
In one devastating instant, however, the life they had assumed would continue was smashed forever.
From shocks on such a scale, each of them could so easily have collapsed into despair.
But they did not.
Through sheer bloody-mindedness, Ms Lomas refused to accept her doctors’ bleak prognosis that she would never walk again.
Against medical advice, she discharged herself from hospital after six weeks. She sold her horses and had to learn all over again how to do the most elementary things, such as sitting upright.
For her part, until the attack that blinded her, Tina Nash had stayed with her boyfriend — who was said to have been mentally ill when he gouged out her eyes — despite the fact that he had attacked her viciously on many previous occasions.
Only now does she seem to have broken free in her mind from this cycle of violence and victimisation which so many women in abusive households find unable to break.
The destruction of her sight seems to have released in her an inner strength that she had not previously been able to find.
Not only did these two women find within themselves the means to survive these appalling events, but they have actually found that good has come out of their experience.
Ms Lomas says her life is better in so many ways than before her accident because she now has her husband and child.
This ability to find something positive even in such personal catastrophe is nothing less than a profound affirmation of life itself.
These two women’s experiences may be extreme; but silent, everyday heroism in the face of adversity goes on all the time.
The world is mainly composed of people living ordinary lives and getting by as best they can in the face of bereavement, illness, unemployment and other life-changing difficulties.
Yes, of course, there is in our society much selfishness and worse — a growing inability to empathise with others, casual cruelty and sometimes even a barbarism which shows how thin is the veneer of civilisation.
And there are some people who unfortunately really don’t have the wherewithal to cope with what life may throw at them, and who go under as a result.
But society is not a river flowing in one direction. It is a vast ocean with many different streams and currents.
There are still many who are decent, generous and selfless. There are still many who have reserves of courage, resilience and hope.
And there are still others who have such reserves but may not yet know it — and who might be helped to discover them by the example set by people such as Claire Lomas and Tina Nash.
Of course, no one should be under any illusions. The physical circumstances of these two resourceful women afflicted by paralysis and blindness remain extremely difficult.
What is so inspiring, however, is the way they have surmounted such adversity to find meaning to their lives.
One reason for the selfishness in our society is that for so many in this post-religious age, life has very little meaning. So often, people discover that meaning through conquering adversity — and through both living for, and giving to, other people.
In our sentimentalised culture where so many rush to label themselves victims in order to gain some advantage, Claire Lomas and Tina Nash, who really are the victims of terrible events, reject this label. They are determined instead to be not life’s losers but its winners.
Their example is inspiring because they tell us what human nature is capable of achieving — and, therefore, what we, too, might achieve.
One woman may be paralysed from the chest down, but her will remains strong and vigorous. The other was previously blind to her dependence on a violent man; now physically blinded, she can finally see what is truly important and valuable in life.
From the example of these two remarkable women, we can see that whatever horrors the world may hold, the human spirit remains unquenchable.