When public servants became victims, heroes
By JENNIFER MUIR BEUTHIN, Contributing Columnist
Last week’s tragedy in San Bernardino has hit close to home in ways most of us could not have comprehended in the days and hours preceding the terrible, unjustifiable events that unfolded in a matter of minutes on Dec. 2.
The nation and world collectively mourned and expressed outrage at the acts of terror that took the lives of 14 and injured 21. Each of us has probably thought about that moment, when we wish we could turn back the clock to before the shooting started, returning the victims to that conference room, where they were immersed in the kind of combined celebration/training that occurs hundreds or thousands of times daily, throughout our great nation and throughout the world, during the holiday season in workplaces large and small, public and private.
Fourteen dead in a matter of moments. Fourteen human beings completely undeserving of their fates. They were moms and dads, sons and daughters. They were related in complex webs to scores of other loved ones. They were friends, co-workers, acquaintances. As their neighbors in Orange County, we might have passed them by without notice in the market, in the mall, on the freeway – but for those who really knew them, they were loved ones, indispensable, irreplaceable.
There are not enough words to sufficiently acknowledge and pay tribute to the remarkable lives and souls of those who died last week, or to thank those first responders who, without hesitation, risked their lives to ensure that more lives weren’t taken. The debt we owe to those brave and selfless public servants is incalculable.
But there is one certain, common thread among the victims, every first responder and every single person who has been there in the aftermath: Their spirit of public service and their commitment to our communities and to the lives of others.
Those who were injured and lost their lives worked each day to keep their communities safe and healthy. Most of them were public health workers, ensuring our families are protected from contracting foodborne illnesses and other communicable diseases. Like the first responders, they were human beings who dedicated their lives to protecting other human beings. Their efforts made our world better, making our collective loss even more deeply difficult to bear.
Public workers from across Southern California, including many in Orange County, responded in the days that followed. Public safety officers were committed to ensuring the containment of further terrorist acts. Probation officers provided peer support and along with health care workers made and collected contributions to support the families of victims. Loved ones were recognized in tearful ceremonies before public audiences and with private condolences.
There is opportunity in adversity, lessons to learn in tragedy. What I have taken from San Bernardino, and what I hope none of us forgets in the face of terror, is that our nation’s greatness lies not in divisiveness or prejudice, but in our mutual concern for others, in our inherent kindness and generosity and in our willingness to come together and set aside our differences when times are tough. When attacked, we respond with infinite reservoirs of love, compassion, strength, innovation and selflessness to prevail and heal.
Jennifer Muir Beuthin is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.
Publication Date: December 11, 2015