In the middle of the night, I heard the sound of running water outside. It was 4:42 am and I was staying in a beach house on the South Jersey shore. At first, I thought it must be the sound of an air conditioner, or a toilet running, or a drainpipe filtering some rain.
But the sound went on. Running water – wasting water – drives me crazy (so much waste and so many without water all around the world), so I dressed quickly and crept outside into the pre-dawn light. There, behind the house, was the outdoor shower, absolutely gushing water, from both the upper and lower faucets. Half-asleep, struck by the surreal vision of water pouring out in the dark for no reason, I reached out and closed the faucets (getting my clothing soaked in the process).
On my way back into the house, I came across some drunken twentysomethings who were also tenants in the same house. "Did you know the shower was left on?" They shrugged; someone must have forgotten to turn it off.
Back in bed, in new dry pajamas, I felt like a superhero – I had saved so much water! And then, I felt a pressing despair.
What difference does it make, what difference does everything we do make, if for every one environmentalist trying to do the right thing, there are twenty – fifty – drunken partiers who leave the water on with no regard for its value at all?
That's when I realized that we need not just environmentalists who protect their own environment, but superheroes. We need a superhero squad of people who are willing to go the extra mile, to take care not just of their own environment but to look out for the others, too.
A superhero is on the lookout for what needs saving. The superhero doesn't feel angry or self-righteous about the work that needs to be done. A superhero selflessly keeps an eye out even beyond his or her own domain; saving, protecting, deriving satisfaction from the good deeds themselves.
We may need more environmentalists, and we certainly need more environmental leaders. But after my night at the beach, I realized that maybe we need superheroes most of all.
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