Digging Up the Good Dirt

I think most people are basically good (yes, even in New York City). I get a lot of raised eyebrows and looks of pity when I say this. I understand your disbelief if you watch the television news.

A quick review of the top stories yesterday evening at 6 p.m. goes like this: ‘5-Car Crash Kills 3 in Hoboken,’ ‘Bronx Man Sentenced in Screwdriver Killing,’ ‘Jersey City Police Discover Body in Vehicle.’ I know I’m going to sound either whiny or deluded when I say I honestly wonder why the stations can’t air more positive stories. Defenders and non-challengers of the status quo say the answer is simply that bad news sells.

I want to be a well-informed citizen of my city, country and world, but the local television news (and often the national news) airs enough doomsday reports to make me not want to leave my apartment. Ever. Obviously sticking one’s head in the sand isn’t a good idea either, but really how can anyone’s day be enriched by learning that a 5-year-old boy was killed in a forklift accident at his father’s place of business?

Besides, isn’t it just as important, perhaps even more important, to share some feel-good news? There really are plenty of encouraging things going on these days, but you have to dig to find it. Here is a story I learned about a few days ago from one of the free morning papers. It didn’t appear on the nightly television news, or in the award-winning newspapers, or even on their corresponding websites.

Seemingly this would be an attention-grabbing story: a man clings to the railing right next to the tracks on the Williamsburg Bridge, and he’s threatening to jump.

For almost 45 minutes, as six MTA employees inched ever closer, the man incoherently mumbled his good-byes to this world. The workers, three track employees and three crew members of the Manhattan-bound J train, tried to calm the man to keep him from plunging into the icy waters of the East River.

The poor soul on the bridge screamed, “I want to be with my wife. I want to be with my wife.” Every time the man looked down to cry, the workers took another step closer. I know what the New Yorkers are thinking: What about all of the people on the train? Were they all late to work? (Admit it. You know it’s true.)

Finally the man reached over to shake one of the worker’s hands. The worker, Thomas Bodai, seized the opportunity and grabbed the man’s waist. He and the others pulled him to safety. Later, Bodai said, “You do what you have to do. It’s part of being a New Yorker.”

In the end, this story probably didn’t make headlines because there was no bloodshed or visit from the coroner. So for now I’m going to do what I have to do and keep the news turned off. Maybe if it doesn’t sell, they’ll get the message.

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