On the road to Weehawken

Or consider the role and duty of a ferry boat captain. Her job is to pilot a ferry boat from Point A to Point B and back again according to schedule while ensuring the safety of her passengers. That is her primary responsibility. It’s what she was hired to do and what she is paid to do.

That duty and responsibility means that she must not stray from her assigned route. Any such deviation will put her ferry and its passengers off schedule. It could also expose her passengers to added risk, endangering their safety and thus betraying her duty as ferry boat captain.

But one day not too long ago, several ferry boat captains did exactly that. With little thought for their unchanging daily duty, they turned their boats around and, instead of taking their passengers safely to shore in a timely manner, they carried them to the middle of the river.

They did this because Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot of US Airways Flight 1549, had just landed his Airbus 320 right there, on the surface of the Hudson River.

Ferry boat Capt. Brittany Catanzaro was not hired to rescue airline passengers from the river. That was not her job. She wasn’t hired to do that and she wasn’t being paid to do that. She was responsible for the passengers aboard the NY Waterways ferry Thomas H. Kean, and not for the passengers of US Airways Flight 1549. Those passengers were US Airways’ responsibility. And water rescue is the job of the Coast Guard or of the FDNY or NYPD.

I’m not sure exactly where in the Hudson Capt. Sully touched down, actually. He may have been closer to the Weehawken side of the river, in which case the stranded passengers perched on the slowly sinking airplane would have fallen under the jurisdiction of New Jersey’s rescue personnel.

None of those responders, however, hesitated for even a second that day to consider such jurisdictional niceties. They all sprang into action without any thought as to who might bear specific or exclusive responsibility for the people stranded in the river.

The very idea of “exclusive responsibility,” in fact, would have seemed horrifying.

Capt. Catanzaro and Vincent Lombardo, captain of another NY Waterways ferry, arrived at the plane within just a few minutes of its touching down in the river, followed soon after by Circle Line ferries and FDNY marine units. They all responded so quickly because they all knew — by training, or by instinct, or by virtue of just being human — that it’s foolish to debate over jurisdiction, or to imagine that the responsibility to act belonged only to one agency and not to any other.

The passengers on that slowing sinking plane were headed to Charlotte and then, from there, to Seattle and to whatever business awaited them in those places. They had no previous relationship to the ferry boat captains or to the passengers on those ferries before Capt. Sully expertly splashed his plane down onto the river on which they were floating. And after that crazily beautiful landing, the only relationship they all shared was that of the crudest most basic kind — a shared humanity and physical proximity.

But that basic relationship was enough for the people on those ferries to recognize, instantly, that it made them responsible. It was enough, even, for them to put every other responsibility they had on hold. No one boarded those ferries expecting to spend the rest of their afternoon plucking strangers out of the water. That wasn’t their job. Like the Samaritan in Jesus’ story, those people had places to be and jobs to do. They were just trying to get to Manhattan or to Weehawken so that they could get on with whatever those other duties and responsibilities were.

But then their circumstances changed and thus their responsibilities changed, because they knew that’s how it works.

It would have been wrong for those commuter ferries and sight-seeing boats to “pass by on the other side.” It would have been wrong to tell themselves that those soaked and sinking strangers were the exclusive responsibility of someone else — the Coast Guard, the FDNY or US Airways — and not their responsibility too. Because (go ahead, say it with me) responsibility is never exclusive, binary and competitive. It’s always mutual and complementary.

We all know this in extraordinary situations, but somehow we tend to forget it in our ordinary lives. Sometimes we choose to forget it because, after all, we have places to be and our own jobs to do, and we imagine that our own lives will be easier if we could somehow exclude ourselves from mutuality.

But mutuality makes our lives easier, not harder. Mutuality isn’t a burden. “Bear one another’s burdens,” the apostle Paul wrote. But some selfish, reptilian part of our brains recoils at the idea — I’m having enough trouble bearing my own burdens, thankyouverymuch. The last thing I need is to get saddled with everyone else’s too. I’m just trying to get to Jerusalem or to Weehawken. I’ve got enough on my plate as it is.

And thus we avoid helping and we avoid being helped. And then we construct ridiculous intellectual justifications for this rejection of mutuality. “Either/Or!” we declare. “Never Both/And.”

Extraordinary circumstances can break through our protective shell and remind us that we know better, and that we can be better and act better and live together better in a better world.

I just wish it didn’t take an Airbus 320 splashing down out of the sky to remind us of that.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Another first?

  • Anonymous

     I think with the economy tanking you’re going to see it get worse along with incredible bursts of generosity, like in the Great Depression. And the generosity won’t be from whom you’d expect. Case in point, the First Baptist put up a big, three story flashy “Teen Center” with dorm rooms and game rooms for the teens of their congregation to hold sleepovers and parties in. They also threw a paltry car wash to raise money to buy Bibles to send to Kenya. Meanwhile, one of the local biker groups held a Battle of the Bands type deal at one of their hangouts to raise money for back to school supplies for kids in need, they raised thousands, and collected boxes of supplies right at the gate. People can be awesome when they want to be.

  • Anonymous

     I think with the economy tanking you’re going to see it get worse along with incredible bursts of generosity, like in the Great Depression. And the generosity won’t be from whom you’d expect. Case in point, the First Baptist put up a big, three story flashy “Teen Center” with dorm rooms and game rooms for the teens of their congregation to hold sleepovers and parties in. They also threw a paltry car wash to raise money to buy Bibles to send to Kenya. Meanwhile, one of the local biker groups held a Battle of the Bands type deal at one of their hangouts to raise money for back to school supplies for kids in need, they raised thousands, and collected boxes of supplies right at the gate. People can be awesome when they want to be.

  • Anonymous

     I think with the economy tanking you’re going to see it get worse along with incredible bursts of generosity, like in the Great Depression. And the generosity won’t be from whom you’d expect. Case in point, the First Baptist put up a big, three story flashy “Teen Center” with dorm rooms and game rooms for the teens of their congregation to hold sleepovers and parties in. They also threw a paltry car wash to raise money to buy Bibles to send to Kenya. Meanwhile, one of the local biker groups held a Battle of the Bands type deal at one of their hangouts to raise money for back to school supplies for kids in need, they raised thousands, and collected boxes of supplies right at the gate. People can be awesome when they want to be.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matthew-McDonald/610556997 Matthew McDonald

    As I mentioned a few threads back, recently Jessica died. She had been engaged to me for awhile, then broke up with me for reasons I’m not going to go into. Bottom line, we tried regaining the close friendship we had for years before the engagement and failed miserably. We had a huge fight, and I didn’t speak to her for the last two and a half months of her life.

    When she died, her mother called me and asked me to fly 1,587 miles to come take care of Jessica’s final business because she couldn’t do it. I went and ended up disposing of Jessica’s worldly goods, seeing her body to its final destination, got her mother psychological help, and way too many other tasks for me to enumerate here. Suffice to say that it was easily the busiest ten days of my life.

    When I got back, people where asking me why I went. Jessica and I had ended on very bad terms, and most believed she had done me wrong. I had never spoken to her mother prior to the phone call that informed me of Jessica’s passing. 

    I have a hard time explaining it. It’s obvious–Linda, Jessica’s mother, needed help. So I helped. It’s that simple.

    We all have a responsibility to each other. The closer you are to a situation, the more responsibility you have, but as each successive level fails, it puts more burden on those further away. Jessica’s father was an active hinderance who, still nursing a decades old grudge, wanted to hurt Linda. Jessica’s family refused utterly to help Linda. That pretty much raised my responsibility from flowers and a phone call to sudden death business coordinator. 

    It’s how the world is supposed to work. I’m an atheist leaning agnostic. I’m not willing to say there is no god, not unless a theist is being obnoxious, but I’m pretty sure there isn’t anything beyond this. But that doesn’t change the fact that things like justice, truth, love, happiness, and more than anything else, responsibility matter. In the absence of something higher, it falls on us to do the right thing whenever possible, to make the world as bright as we can, because this is all we can count on getting.

    Levels of responsibility exist to make sure that no person has to shoulder the burden of life by themselves. When you repudiate others’ responsibility to act, or when you fail to act, you’re actively darkening the world, and making the burden larger on those who can and will act.

    Governmental help is part of the system of responsibility. They are the last, and ultimate level. When they step in, it’s because your family, friends, neighbors, church, town, and state have failed you, and thank god they’re there. No one should fall through the cracks, and people like these Saddleback dildos and Jessica’s father are doing all they can to escape even the notion of responsibility or action, even through such a distant actor as the government.

    Which is why they need to be smacked. Just sayin. 

    Love. Peace. Metallica.

  • Anonymous

    You know, I don’t care if I never see another Left Behind post if Fred’s going to keep cranking out polemics like this!

  • SacSuxs

    From an airline friend of mine who flies for USAirways but has a brother and cousin as Hudson River ferry boat captains, “When Sully touched the water, he instantly became the lowest paid captain on the Hudson.”

    Perhaps if the USAirways pilots had the gonads to actually force their management to work, they would not be paid so little.

  • Derekl1963

    Wrong from beginning to end.  Your complex intellectual masturbation ignores stark reality.  They didn’t change course because of ‘mutuality’.  They didn’t change course because of some deep well of humanity.  They did so _because they were required to do so_.  The laws and customs of those who ply their trade upon the waters places the rescue of those in distress as a priority over all others save the safety of your own passengers.  You have no choice in the matter.  You can be held liable if you fail to do so.

    But, bending facts and reality to suit your politics and agenda is your stock in trade.  We’re used to it.  As we’re used to your shrill insistence that only the Other Side does so.

  • Lunch Meat

    The laws and customs of those who ply their trade upon the waters places the rescue of those in distress as a priority over all others save the safety of your own passengers.

    Why?

  • Anonymous

    The laws and customs of those who ply their trade upon the waters don’t reflect an understanding of mutuality?

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, they show mutality in action, instead of as in old, when private fire companies would argue over whose territories was whos, while houses burned down, the situation in the Hudson showed mutality at it’s best. The operating principle of “I’m here, I can provide help, my help is needed, and so I will do so.” They didn’t wait for orders, or argue they couldn’t be held liable for US Air’s passengers, they helped. Humans are animals that like to forget that we’re animals a bit too often, but we are animals, social animals to be exact, and we depend on each other to survive. Power plants and water mains don’t spring fully formed from your forehead just because you’ve read Atlas Shrugged.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, they show mutality in action, instead of as in old, when private fire companies would argue over whose territories was whos, while houses burned down, the situation in the Hudson showed mutality at it’s best. The operating principle of “I’m here, I can provide help, my help is needed, and so I will do so.” They didn’t wait for orders, or argue they couldn’t be held liable for US Air’s passengers, they helped. Humans are animals that like to forget that we’re animals a bit too often, but we are animals, social animals to be exact, and we depend on each other to survive. Power plants and water mains don’t spring fully formed from your forehead just because you’ve read Atlas Shrugged.

  • Anonymous

    Exactly on point. For contract-driven people living contract-driven lives, these laws and customs ought to make no sense.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5V7WB5LWONXO22R6D4CYEZGYFE Alan

     I just wanted you to know, Derekl1963, that I don’t consider you to be, in any sense of the word, a human being. I pity your children if you have any. Indeed, I can’t imagine that you ever would voluntarily have children unless your doctor said there was something wrong with your kidneys and so you wanted to breed a future organ donor.

  • Lori

     The laws and customs of those who ply their trade upon the waters don’t reflect an understanding of mutuality?  

     

    Apparently in Derekl1963′s world those laws and customs exist just because shut up that’s why. They’re not in any way a recognition of the fact that you help someone today because you may need help tomorrow or that extraordinary circumstances arise with some regularity on the water and therefore people need to be prepared to deal with them. 

    Apparently people who take jobs on the water don’t think about that at all when they chose careers. They’re simply helpless and unwilling prisoners of the laws and customs of those who ply their trade upon the waters. 

  • Corvid81

    I must reply to Derekl1963 – I may not be a commercial captain, but I have spent a lot of time in boats. While it is absolutely true that you are legally bound to help other boaters in distress if you are the nearest vessel, I can tell you that NO ONE thinks about laws when something bad happens. You just HELP. As a sailor, it’s what you do. Things can get very dangerous out on the water, and everyone knows that they rely on each other for rescue. I have seen (and heard, over radio) enough rescues to know that the decision to help is too quick for logic. 

  • Anonymous

    Impossible! Laws are made only to inconvenience people going about their daily lives. The government issues them at random.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    To quote Aristotle,

    “I have gained this by philosophy: that I do without being commanded what others do only from fear of the law.”

  • Anonymous

    Or think of other heroes like the intern who saved Rep. Giffords’ life. I was struck in the interviews he did by how baffled he seemed over the fuss people were making over him. He didn’t see the big deal in not running away from the sounds of the gunshots, but running towards Gifford’s and staunching her wound. The biggest thing I took away it that it didn’t occur to him not to help, that she wasn’t his problem, and that life is not in fact an every person for themselves free for all. He’s an example of humanity at its best.

  • http://gocart-mozart.blogspot.com/ gocart mozart

    Liberal socialists Islamic commies jammed their big government laws down the ferry boat captains’ throats? 

  • http://gocart-mozart.blogspot.com/ gocart mozart

    They don’t believe what they say with regard to “moral absolutism” in general not just mutuality.  Show me someone who decries “moral relativism” in our culture and I’ll show you someone who will make an “ends justifies the means” argument at the drop of a hat: From war to torture to the death penalty to the Hiroshima Bomb and countless other examples.  The most staunch “Stop Moral Relativism, Now!” fundie cares less about moral absolutes than the average liberal.       

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    “I have gained this by philosophy: that I do without being commanded what others do only from fear of the law.”

    I thought Leonard Nimoy said that…

  • Anonymous

    Well “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”, not to mention his death scene in Wrath of Khan are much better theology and moral code than just about anything that passes for Christianity on the religious right. I mean you want to talk about mutuality, “Ship…out of danger?”

  • http://gocart-mozart.blogspot.com/ gocart mozart

    It started with the pilot episode and Capt Pike.

  • Jenny Islander

    I recently read something that froze my blood.  It was an aside in a history of recent activity by the U.S. Coast Guard.  I had wondered for years why no helicopter pilot had swooped in to save anybody from the roofs of the Twin Towers before they fell.  Coast Guard rescue pilots were in the air–in Coast Guard choppers with the official markings and transponders, inbound from the nearby Coast Guard base on a clear trajectory–but they had to turn around and leave those people to die because the Air Force fighter pilots who were already in the air had orders to kill them.  Because absolute proclamations trump everything else.  Besides being horrific, it was prophetic.

  • Jenny Islander

    Sorry, didn’t put in enough detail: They had orders to kill anybody else in the air; they were speaking with the Coast Guard rescue pilots, so they heard an explanation, and they were certainly close enough to see the choppers and where they came from; they still said that they were going to kill them if they continued.

    So either they didn’t ask their CO for clarification, or the damn CO valued absolute proclamation over saving lives.

  • FangsFirst

    Impossible! Laws are made only to inconvenience people going about their daily lives. The government issues them at random.

    Um, does anyone know if Disqus tallies “Likes” by mac address, IP, username…or…well..what?
    Because I need to go back and like this comment more. Brilliant down to the exact structuring and “pacing” of the entire thing. It’s an absolute thing of beauty. Seriously, it’s rare that something strikes me like this. I feel like I should give you some kind of gift.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I thought Leonard Nimoy said that…

    He did, yes, in Sid Meier’s Civilization IV, upon researching the Philosophy tech. 

    I think that his reading of the quote for the Monotheism tech was particularly spin-tingling:

    “I am The Lord thy God, thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

    I mean, just imagine that being read in Nimoy’s voice.  *Pleasant shiver* As a trekkie, it is particularly resonant.

  • Matri

    Aww, Derek is inconsolable and upset because we’re praising these captains for being like the Samaritan and stopping to help, instead of being like a “Christian” and crossing to the other side of the road.

    But, bending facts and reality to suit your politics and agenda is your stock in trade.

    How nice of you to acknowledge what your kind does. Usually you just blame everybody else but yourself, it’s refreshing to hear you take responsibility for your propaganda.

  • Rikalous

    Um, does anyone know if Disqus tallies “Likes” by mac address, IP, username…or…well..what?
    Because I need to go back and like this comment more. Brilliant
    down to the exact structuring and “pacing” of the entire thing. It’s an
    absolute thing of beauty. Seriously, it’s rare that something strikes
    me like this. I feel like I should give you some kind of gift.

    A gift of one or more internets would be traditional.

  • https://profiles.google.com/ravanan101 Ravanan

    FangsFirst:

    I believe it’s by account and/or IP.

    FearlessSon:

    I prefered it when he said “Give your heart over to darkness!”

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    In mocking Derekl1963 you guys are all just continuing to engage in intellectual masturbation. By bending facts to suit your political agenda you are ignoring the stark reality that the only reason anyone ever does anything that is not utterly selfish is because they are forced to. This is how Derekl, in his superior state, thinks so of course you all do too, despite your shrill insistence otherwise.

    Oh thank you, Derekl, for pouring forth your wisdom on the self-deluding mess of humanity than frequents this space. It’s high time Fred was told, and you told him good.

  • FangsFirst

    A gift of one or more internets would be traditional.

    I thought about internets, but it seemed so insufficient, unless it was added up like something similar to a “real” no-prize.

    I believe it’s by account and/or IP.

    Seems to be an “and.” I am not logged in in other browsers, but liking it again through them had no effect

  • Anonymous

    The compliments are gift enough. Seriously, you’re making me blush.

  • Anonymous

    Listen, there are four places to land safely in New York; JFK, LaGuardia, Newark and the Hudson River. Ground Zero, stay the Fuck out!”
    Jon Stewart

  • Diona the Lurker

    Have you got evidence that the ferry boat captains would be held liable if they failed to act?

  • Tonio

    I’ve noticed a strange reaction in myself if someone is in a life-threatening situation, or if two people are about to get into a fistfight. I seem to zone out, like it’s not real. Does that have any relation to the lizard brain concept that Fred suggested?

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    Have you got evidence that the ferry boat captains would be held liable if they failed to act?

    More to the point, I want to see evidence that they even thought, “Crap, we’d better go over there or we’ll get strung up for sure,” before going to help.  In a lot of cases laws like that are put in place simply to codify tradition and the standard human response, anyway.

  • esmerelda ogg

    Fred, if you read the comments, this one brought tears to my eyes. Very well written. I wonder if even the most stubborn tea partiers could make themselves miss the point?

  • esmerelda ogg

    Oh dear. I hadn’t meant to take time to read the comments, but then came Derek!1963. I guess there is no pit so low the right wing won’t plunge to its bottom and then claim they’re speaking from the highest moral pinnacle.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    > I seem to zone out, like it’s not real.

    This sort of dissociation is a pretty common reaction to anxiety-provoking situations. As is literally falling asleep.

    I remember when my dad died and I came back to my childhood home, walking through that door was so stressful that I had an out-of-body dissociative experience that left “me” on the porch while my body walked through the door.

    It’s pretty amazing what our minds will do to avoid experiencing what’s actually happening.

  • Tonio

    Thanks. For a while I thought there was something wrong with me personally.

  • Tonio

    Thanks. For a while I thought there was something wrong with me personally.

  • Tonio

    Thanks. For a while I thought there was something wrong with me personally.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I think that those laws were put in place less to “force” sea-goers to render assistance, and more so that those few douches who do not volunteer their help have a legal basis to be disciplined by their community.  

  • Dan Audy

    That and to protect those who help from risk-averse owners who might fire a captain for endangering their vessel, missing schedules, or potential lawsuits (which would exist without the obligation).  It would be a terrible thing if people were forced to choose between being a decent human being and potentially losing their livelihood because someone who doesn’t understand the risk and experience and wasn’t there is afraid that it might cost them some money.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    This, all the way.  I have myself run into a lot of issues where I am expressly forbidden by the policy of the places in which I work from “doing the right thing” because I might put myself at risk by doing so, and the company fears litigation should I be hurt while technically on the job.  

    It disgusts me, but sometimes there are things worth losing one’s job to do.  

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    This, all the way.  I have myself run into a lot of issues where I am expressly forbidden by the policy of the places in which I work from “doing the right thing” because I might put myself at risk by doing so, and the company fears litigation should I be hurt while technically on the job.  

    It disgusts me, but sometimes there are things worth losing one’s job to do.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    One result of playing too much Civ IV is that I always hear those famous quotes in Leonard Nimoy’s voice. Including, of course, when he quotes Sputnik:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1Z6e7igvMA

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Incidentally, you should watch/listen to this duet-version performance of Baba Yetu done by the Video Games Live orchestra for PBS.  

    For those unfamiliar, it is the opening theme to Civilization IV.  It attempts to capture the spirit of many cultures at once.  To this end, it is an Africian a cappella theme, sung by a multi-ethnic choir.  The lyrics themselves are the words to The Lord’s Prayer, translated into Swahili.  

    I think that it is wholly appropriate for a site like Patheos, and I encourage others to give it a listen.  One reviewer described the song as being like the feeling one might get when seeing a beautiful person, and then seeing a smile grace their face.  


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