Belfast Telegraph

Joe Brolly's amazing gift reminds us of our everyday heroes

By Gail Walker

There are times when the news is so dark, so depressing, it's hard to lift your head off the pillow and get out of bed. Like the last few days when we've been listening for updates on the search for missing five-year-old April Jones. The slow extinguishing of hope could, if you were in a dark enough mood, stand as proof that life is a terrible, burdensome thing calling for forbearance and little else.

It would be all to easy to shrug off humanity as sour and sick and get on with the business of keeping it as far away from your door as you can. Where exactly is the joy? The love? The support?

But then there are those stories which remind us that the world can be held at bay, not just by mistrust and cynicism, but by friendship, trust and, at the end of the day, goodness.

Take the case of ex-Derry All-Ireland hero Joe Brolly donating a kidney to his friend, Belfast PR director Shane Finnegan.

A remarkable enough gesture in itself, but moreso when you consider that Joe, a father-of-five, and Shane, who has three children, had only been friends for less than a year. They met when their kids played together with St Brigid's GAA Club in Belfast.

Joe, a pundit and barrister, made the offer upon discovering that Shane had been attending dialysis at Belfast City Hospital three times a week after a previous transplant operation six years ago. While it's early days, last week's transplant at Guy's Hospital in London seems to have gone well. Speaking after the op, Shane said there were no words with which to thank Joe.

Which is where kindness often leaves us: speechless, uncertain what to say, touched beyond belief. We know where we stand with selfishness and cruelty and rail against it all day, but something being done as a Good Samaritan and asking nothing in return is truly astounding.

Mr Brolly's act was one of pure altruism. How many of us would have offered to undergo such a trauma? Maybe for a son, daughter, sister or brother but for a recently made friend? Very few, I'd vouch.

We'd quickly find a stash of perfectly understandable reasons why we'd love to be able help but just couldn't put ourselves on the operating table. Too much time off work, too disruptive to family life, unfair to our loved ones to risk having just one kidney ... I mean, what if?

Joe Brolly's self-sacrifice may be newsworthy and he rightly deserves to be embarrassed by our praise, but we should also remember that there are thousands of Joe Brollys out there. Maybe not quite as brave or heroic, but good people who remind us that we are not all bad.

There are many men and women who keep our community going: volunteering for bring and buy sales, coaching kids' teams, running Scout and Brownie groups, collecting in all weather for the sick and the needy, voluntarily cleaning our streets, popping their head round the door of an elderly neighbour. Those who give of their professional expertise and their time freely for the betterment of all. In a world where it's easy to give in to bleakery and darkness, they are a reminder that it is the cynics who are being simple-minded.

For each act of unimaginable evil, there are thousands of good acts which we fail to notice. In a world addicted to spectacle, the horrible, the grotesque, the bizarre, goodness, like happiness, writes white.

Just because it happens every hour, every day, we barely take time to recognise it - except when faced with an extraordinary example like that of Joe's gift to Shane. Familiarity in this instance may not breed contempt exactly but it certainly does breed a kind of myopic indifference.

Yet it is these people, not the child murderers, the perverted, the selfish, who, in the last instance, really represent humanity.

Words may be inadequate but we don't say it often enough: "Thank you."

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