July 4: In Honor Of the Quiet Good People Who Do the Right Thing

Today’s post is different; it is a deeply personal tribute to those everyday heroes who should inspire us with hope. They are not heroes in the normal sense. They are the decent people who do the right thing at the right time without fanfare or acclaim. Today is in their honor.

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Tuesday, July 7, 6:30-8 pm, Zoominar: Health Security Act in NM, A Dream That Could Become Reality in 2021 with leadership from the Health Security for New Mexico Campaign. If COVID hasn’t caused you to recognize the need for the Health Security Act in NM, join us to find out what this 20-year effort to achieve health security in NM is all about and why we need it more than ever, when thousands of New Mexicans have lost their jobs and their health insurance during the pandemic.

We we will be joined by Mary Feldblum, Executive Director of Health Security for New Mexicans Campaign. Mary has been the force behind the HSA since 1992, so she is the definition of commitment and tenacity. She won’t give up until we get there. Joining her will be Tyler Taylor, a Los Alamos physician and member of the Campaign’s Executive Committee, and Shelley Mann-Lev, a Board Member for the NM Public Health Association and chair of its policy committee. Don’t miss our radio interview with Mary Feldblum, today, Sat., July 4, 8:30 am. 

Click here to pre-register. You must register to attend Retake Zoominars.

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Black Lives Matter advocates have asked that everyone wear all black on July 4. So, if you venture out on Saturday, show solidarity and wear only black.

A Tribute to the Real Heroes

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For all of us, 2020 has been a year to bury, and we are but half way through it. All of us are struggling with the horror of COVID and the continuing murder and abuse of people of color, African Americans most particularly.

But more than the fear of the pandemic itself, what is even more disappointing is the reaction among some Americans to the simple need to wear a mask or abide a peaceful protest. It is as if we have completely lost our way and far too many of us are operating without any kind of moral or ethical compass.Too many people can no longer look beyond their own interests, with the Bill of Rights meaning to them that they are entitled express the basest of human instincts without the slightest qualm. Of course, this has been very much the modus operandi of our nation since white males first set foot on this continent.

And so, July 4 has never been a day of celebration for me, as since the Vietnam War, I have never really gotten that patriotic feeling inside. It was bad then and in 2020… well, enough said.

But there is a flip side to this. There are other Americans who selflessly do the right thing, who take a knee to police, who defend an immigrant being verbally abused, or a black woman being called the “N” word. They take risks to do the right thing and they are rarely honored, so I dedicate this July 4 to one of those people, my brother Eric Lars Gibson.

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No Cape, Just a Hero

Erik was killed in a motorcycle accident 50 years ago yesterday. He was one of the most popular kids in our high school, a star athlete with an almost certain career in major league baseball. He was an athlete extraordinaire, certainly one of the best athletes in our school’s history. We had professional baseball scouts to our house to visit us from the time he was about 13 or 14. He was that good.

But that is not what I remember most about Erik. What I remember is the kindest soul I’ve ever known, a person with an instinct not just for doing what was right, but for doing what would bring the most joy to those around him. One simple act illustrates this perfectly.

Erik was at a school dance during his Junior year. He could have danced with anyone as he was likely the most popular and well-known student in the school. But he crossed the room and asked a girl to dance who was standing in the shadows and hadn’t danced all night long. She was not terribly popular and looked sad. So, Erik danced with her for awhile.

I didn’t witness the action, as I was off at college, but about 10 years ago, when I wrote a FB post acknowledging the 40th anniversary of his death, I was told this story by the woman who he had asked to dance. His act of kindness had stuck with her for over 40 years.

Was this heroic? Not at all. It was simply a nice thing to do. So he did it.

Erik really reduced life to those kinds of simplistic equations. He just knew what was the right thing to do and he did it without having to think about it or to consider the consequences. He did what brought joy.

He was not terribly political, although I sure tried. His reaction to politics was sort of odd. I was an avid Nation reader and when we would talk about things I’d read, he didn’t get angry. He was just puzzled and would respond: “That just doesn’t make sense. Why would anyone do that?”

Erik was much more to me than my only brother, he was my best friend. It has been 50 years since he died, but I carry his memory with me, and very often my memory of him helps me find my better self, someone who can be more puzzled by others bad behavior than angry and seek to understand rather than condemn. Some of you may wish I kept him in my mind more often. 😉

When July 3 approaches I am always wary and realize that it will bring tears often throughout the day, even 50 years later. But today for reasons I don’t fully understand, Erik’s simple goodness seems particularly poignant, as kindness and understanding are so frequently absent from our public discourse. Very often I wonder how Erik would react if he were suddenly brought back to life as the 17-year-old he was when he died. He would find himself in this world without having had 50 years of life experience that would have had to have eroded his simple goodness.

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But how would he have reacted? I am thinking he would be one of those who when faced with an opportunity would act as these folks have done for the past three months: People who show up in the COVID ICU every day without a thought for their safety; people who check your groceries and stock the shelves; people working in Navajo and Hopi communities; people of all colors who march because Black Lives Matter, people who take a knee when faced with riot police with guns, shields, and tear gas; people like Josh Dangler who was stabbed in the neck by a racist who had been verbally assaulting a black woman, calling her the N-word and using other slurs. Josh interceded, it would seem instinctively.

And we have so many others who without fanfare just do the right thing every day, exposing themselves to risk because… because it is just the right thing to do.

Erik would have fit right in with that crowd. I doubt that he would have viewed his actions as heroic or brave, just the right thing to do. Thanks to all the Eriks out there. And thank you, Erik ,you are still with me.

In solidarity,


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11 replies

  1. Thank you Paul for this very important reminder today on the Fourth of July.

  2. A deeply loving tribute to someone whose life did matter!

  3. What a wonderful tribute to your brother Erik and the “quiet heroes”, who do the right thing everyday.

  4. Beautiful words and thoughts. As imperfect as we all are, let us hope we can call up the spirit of Eric and others like him when the situation demands. With hope for America. Dee Gamble

  5. Thank you Paul for sharing your touching memories about your beloved brother. How sad that he died so young, yet a blessing that you carry his memory so deeply within you.

  6. Thank you. We all knew an Erik or two in our lives. But for centuries the gatekeepers of our culture have taught us to ignore them.
    It is time to fight back our patriarchal/capitalist culture by doing just what you are doing here Paul!
    We must begin to learn to recognize those who build community, those who nurture relationships, be it with other humans, with the animal world and with Life in general.
    You and Roxanne have demonstrated, with your actions here in SF, to represent the Eriks of the world.
    And there are many more right here that we should name and personally thank them for being who they are.


  7. Thank you Paul for your big heart and sharing Erik with us all. May we each just keep on keeping on doing the right thing because it is just the right thing to do! I think Erik is smiling down from whatever part the universe he is in to say to you brother, “Thank you Paul, you good and faithful servant of goodwill for all the people.” Thanks for leading us all forward in going the right thing!

  8. The real value of every country’s Independence Day is its call to review, and maybe relearn, our country’s history.

    This is what a Gen-Z writer has to tell about America/ns.


    “Generation Z’s version of radical hope is not a passive dream that the world might turn out alright, but an utter conviction that we have the power to materialize the socio-structural change for which we yearn. Because we have witnessed the incredible perseverance of the American people, we are not afraid to unabashedly challenge the rotten core of American culture that corrupts our nation’s institutions.”

  9. Hi Paul, I hit share this and facebook, but nothing moved to my facebook page. Any ideas for getting this piece shared far and wide? Maybe posting an address that can be cut and pasted as one’s facebook entry and once posted the complete — and most tender — message can be read by others.

    • Yes. Return to the article, click on its url in the browser. Go to your FB page and write some note telling your peeps why you are sharing it and the paste in the link. It should then put the article below your post. If you have any “friends” you especially want to see it, type in their names and this will “tag” them and your post will appear in their feed. For me (and I don’t know why) I have to type @ before typing in the names of people I want to tag. Does this help?

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