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Paul Walker and a Retrospective on Humanity

Last night I heard the sad news that I’m sure many others of you have since also heard: that Paul Walker, an American actor who starred in many films, but most notably the Fast and the Furious series, died in a car accident.

I confess that while I found the news achingly tragic — a car accident is such an awful end to a life, especially one that was just 40 years old — I didn’t really think much of Paul Walker aside from his FF work, his role in a fluff action film I had seen a few years ago called Into the Blue, and his overwhelmingly beautiful blue eyes.

It wasn’t until I read a few articles following his death (mainly because I wanted to be absolutely certain this had really happened and wasn’t another one of those stupid “celebrity death hoaxes”) that I saw another side of him.

For one thing, just because all I had seen of Paul Walker was fluff films, didn’t necessarily mean that he was a fluff actor. I read about some of the movies he had been in that I hadn’t been aware of, including Pleasantville and a new yet-to-be released movie called “Hours,” about a father of a newborn struggling through the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

For another, I hadn’t realized just how well-regarded he was, not only as an actor, but moreso as a human being. I read that he was a very kind and grounded man who was not involved in the “Hollywood scene.”

But the last thing I discovered was that he was also a devoted philanthropist. I had read that his death took place, sadly, not long after he had completed a charity event. But I hadn’t any idea that the charity event was for a charity he himself had founded.

Paul Walker started Reach Out Worldwide in 2010 because he no longer wanted to sit idly by when natural disasters hit other parts of the world. He wanted to be involved in helping. Since then, this charity has offered rescue and recovery assistance to Haiti, Alabama, Chile, Indonesia, and most recently the Philippines, which was the intended recipient of his last charity event.

This organization has been around for 3 years. The question that popped up in my mind was “Why had I never heard about this?” Granted, Paul Walker was far from the most famous actor in our country. Most would probably put him at about a B+, “list”-wise. But I knew who he was. I had seen a bit of his work. He seemed to be an easy actor to like. Somehow, I had never heard about his work. I had no idea he was so passionate about serving others.

I then think about all the times in which I find myself drawn towards stories of “celebrities behaving badly.” I’d like to think it happens against my will, but if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that there are times when I am just gobbling up all the Internet articles detailing some actor or singer or athlete’s deplorable behavior.

But I have to tell you that I find Paul Walker’s philanthropy really inspiring, even as I feel a little annoyed with myself for not knowing about this sooner. The trouble is that we have to do some digging to learn about a celebrity’s good works, especially if that celebrity is doing it for the right reasons. I mean to say that I know full well that some famous folks participate in charity events or put their names on nonprofits to get good publicity. The ones doing it for the right reasons aren’t doing it to make themselves look good; they’re doing it because they sincerely want to make a difference. And these folks are more than likely doing their good deeds quietly, without trumpeting them to the world.

I’m not saying that all celebrities who loudly pronounce their charity work are doing so just to get attention. I know that often it’s important for celebrities to do publicity for their charity work just so others will hear about it and are moved to help. But when it’s time to get one’s hands dirty and actually do the work involved, you may never hear about what that famous person did from the famous person him/herself. You may have to hear about it from a friend or an organization director.

All of this made me wonder what I can do. I don’t want people like Paul Walker to have to die before we find out about the good they were doing. I want to celebrate the greatness in the people I see on TV or hear on the radio or even know in day-to-day life while they’re still around to inspire us.

And why do I want to do this? For two reasons: number one, because I think it’s sometimes entirely too easy to become disillusioned with the world’s humanity. We are bombarded with stories about the evil that men and women do to one another. And while I don’t want to stick my head in the sand and pretend evil doesn’t exist, nor do I want to be tempted to throw my hands up and say “there’s nothing that can be done, if someone is evil they will do evil things. Period.” Wouldn’t it be nice if, for every story you heard about someone doing something horrible, you heard three stories about people doing something delightful? It doesn’t have to be heroic in the life-saving sort of way. But it would be nice if we realized that the world is not necessarily overrun with evil people.

Number two, because even though people who do good things don’t do them for the recognition, isn’t it nice to be recognized for doing something right? I freely admit that when someone draws attention to something I do well, or just nicely, it makes me feel pink with delight. I think it would be nice to do so for other people as often as possible.

So here are a few things I want to share, just so we can all remember that the world is full of great examples of humanity.

One: a fellow blogger (who also happens to be a published author, woo-hoo!) had a recent series on her blog called “Thankful Thursdays.” In it she listed all the ways that she and her family helped out the less fortunate in our community. The posts were a fun read, and I was riveted (and humbled, and inspired to do something similar during the Christmas holidays). Heather Davis’ blog series can be found here:

http://www.minivan-momma.com/search/label/%23ThankfulThursdays

Two: Earlier today my family went to church. My younger, Elena, and I each took a bag from Ruth’s Christian Bookstore. Mine had a brand-new bunch of birthday pencils for the kids. Hers had the Bible her sister gave her, and (unbeknownst to me) a couple of tiny rings for her fingers.

On the way back out, she was still carrying her bag, but for some reason she decided to drag it on the floor, or more specifically, on the ground, once we were out of the church building. I told her, probably in an annoyed and long-suffering voice, “if you keep dragging that bag like that, you’re going to get holes in it.”

She either ignored me or thought I didn’t know what I was talking about, and she continued dragging. Sure enough, the bag developed a huge honkin’ hole at the bottom. She was laughing about it when we were in the car.

But oh dear… halfway home she told me about the tiny rings, which of course were no longer in the bag. And one of them had been given to her by her beloved grandmother, who had just visited.

I, of course, like the gentle and patient mom I am, scolded her fairly severely for not listening to Mom who had TOLD her that she’d get a hole in the bag, as well as for having those rings in the bag in the first place and why did you not stop and think about those rings when you were putting holes in your bag?!

Elena was devastated. I was quite annoyed. And then, as we were bustling ourselves into the house, I started to feel guilty. I had been working myself into a self-righteous storm about how my daughters just never listened to me. But when I stopped to think about how I had snapped at Elena when I saw her dragging that bag… well, of course she hadn’t listened to me. Who here enjoys listening when you’re being scolded by an annoyed robot? Hands in the air. … yeah, that’s what I thought.

So I decided it was my job to return to church and see if I could find those rings. I figured they had to be either in the parking lot or on the sidewalk or ramp leading out of the church. I got out of my SUV and started looking.

As it turned out, I found the first ring about 5 seconds into my search. It turned out to be the ring her grandma had given her. But I still couldn’t find the second ring, which Elena’s older sister Kiersten had given her.

During my search, the children’s ministry director Linda stopped her car and asked if I was looking for something. I briefly explained the situation, and Linda then got out of her car and started helping me look.

While we were looking, our church’s senior pastor, Jeff, and the youth pastor, Drew, were walking out of church to their cars, along with Jeff’s granddaughter Xandree. They too joined in the search. A search for a tiny gold ring (I quickly called Eric so that Kiersten could give me a description of the second ring) with a tiny infinity sign on it.

We all searched for about 15 minutes when I finally called it off. I thanked everyone for helping me, while Linda reassured me that that ring was bound to turn up at some point.

When I got home, I thought: how many churches would have a children’s ministry director, senior pastor, and youth pastor all join together to search for a tiny ring belonging to a 7-year-old girl?

I don’t know… but I also know that those three jobs are some of the most thankless in the business, and I really am glad that those three folks occupy those positions. If you want to know how much someone cares about the little ones in their church, tell them you’re looking for a tiny gold ring in a parking lot.

Humanity, folks. There’s lots of good in it.

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