The Value of a Single Human Being

Judy Westerman Silver

“This is what we stand for: Justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.”

The famous line, uttered by Spenser Tracy’s character in the film “Judgement at Nuremberg” is on my mind tonight. 198 American families are morning the deaths of loved ones. The trend shows the death rate from Covid19 doubling every three days. There will be so many more tears ahead. The likelihood that we will lose someone we care about is staggering.

It seems like a year ago that we lost my sister. Sunday it was just sixty days. Today she would have turned 63.

There is a sad duality to our nature. People fight for the rights of the unborn, but ignore their suffering once they are here. We we write checks to non-profits with tears in our eyes but hoard toilet paper. We accept horrific behavior from our politicians, as long as they protect our selfish interests.

And yet, great role models emerge from the crowd who stretch us, hold us accountable and inspire us to be better people than we are.

That was Judy. I’m certain there were many like her among the 16,502 who died by Corona’s sword.

How do we honor promising lives that have been extinguished too soon? By trying to model their better nature.

Our character is the sum total of the influences we allow to form it. Nobody is perfect. But everyone has some positive dimension that’s worth integrating into our own programming.

Among Judy’s many amazing traits were: inquisitiveness, compassion, kindness and tenacity. The world needs more of all four of these things.

I’ve become sensitive to the fragility of life in Corona’s wake. I find myself checking in with valued friends, sending supportive messages to people I know are struggling, and appreciating the smiles and laughter that still radiate from many of the servant leaders who are keeping the essentials going for us in these uncertain times.

The exercise of kindness has had a surprising return on investment.

My own stress goes down a notch when I can look for the good in others. And modeling their behavior in a time when so many people are on the ragged edge of fear and anger is deeply appreciated.

Last week, I found myself in the checkout line at Costco. The team members told me that on any given day, 200 people are waiting when the doors open. That day, there were 700. The most popular staples were gone before half had entered the store.

I was two customers behind an older couple. Their own huge cart had just three items in it.

“Did you find everything you were looking for?” the associate at the cash register asked.

They shook their heads, smiles of resignation on their faces.

“We arrived a little too late for toilet paper and bread.”

We all heard the exchange. There were more than enough of both in other carts I saw. But it was the man in front of me who affirmed my faith that day.

He reached into his cart and took out his own two packages of bathroom tissue and a loaf of bread.

“For you, with my gratitude,” he said.

His hand swept his own abundant haul.

“Take whatever else you need.”

I was floored. I wanted to rush home and write to you about it.

But then I checked my social media feeds. For every video of two women fighting over a package of bottled water, there were many more examples of great acts of kindness, just like the one I witnessed.

We can find meaning in the midst of fear, renewal in the shadow of grief and loss. There are good people out there. They celebrate the value of a single human being. They just make their magic quietly and don’t Tweet about it.

That’s how Judy would do it. And she would quote Fred Rogers to me on the days my cynicism got the better of me, adding her own postscript.

“Look for the helpers. And do what they do.”