In 2010 two men made very different choices. In Austin, Texas Joseph Stack, bitter and irate about the IRS, set fire to his home, drove to the Georgetown airport and took off in a single engine Piper Cherokee. Minutes later, in a suicide crash reminiscent of 9/11, he slammed the plane into the IRS building in Austin.
IRS worker, Vernon Hunter died in the flames. Hunter, 67, was a Vietnam veteran, an usher at the St. James Missionary Baptist Church in Austin and dreamed of another career after retirement. Hunter’s children went on record to say they forgave Joe Stack for killing their father.
In Dallas, Andisso Andabo, 22, an Ethiopian immigrant who worked as a mechanic, left the Firestone shop were he worked to make a delivery. Driving along the LBJ freeway in northwest Dallas he saw a car on fire that rolled off the road and landed on its side. Andabo immediately stopped his truck and rushed to the scene.
With flames spreading from the engine compartment, he saw a 39 year-old woman trapped inside frozen in terror. He smashed the front window with his bare hands and ripped it off. With the help of others who arrived on the scene, he pulled the woman from the burning car moments before it was engulfed in flames. Afterward, Andabo returned to the Firestone shop and went back to work.
Both of these men made choices. Stack chose to take out his anger, bitterness and resentment in a violent act that took his life and that of an innocent man. Andisso Andabo chose to risk his own safety to help a stranger in a moment of crisis. The different choices made by Stack and Andabo reflect different attitudes that each cultivated in private. Each of us may not know what we would do in a crisis, but we each make choices every day to cultivate attitudes that will determine our actions.
Anger, resentment and entitlement will ultimately produce violence and retaliation. Humility, compassion and thoughtfulness will ultimately produce sacrificial acts of kindness.
Jesus defined the term “neighbor” in his famous story about the Good Samaritan who put his life at risk to help a wounded victim who had been robbed and beaten. After stopping to care for the man’s wounds, he carried him to the nearest inn for lodging.
“The next day,” Jesus said, “he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'
The attitudes we cultivate, the choices we make and the actions they produce make all the difference in the kind of world we live in. Choices that lead to violent acts of reprisal create a world filled with enemies that feeds on fear and hatred. Choices that lead to acts of kindness create a world filled with neighbors who help one another by demonstrating love, acceptance and understanding.