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Courage, sacrifice seem rare
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I like to think of the Valley as a caring community.

There are dozens of service clubs, places of worship and volunteers who give of their time and money all year long to make our town a little bit nicer place to live.

But I'm sure that the majority of people living in Richmond, Calif. also thought they lived in a caring community - until last month that is.

The Contra Costa Times reported that up to 20 people may have stood around and watched as a 15-year-old girl was gang raped outside of a school dance on Oct. 24.

"As many as seven people assaulted her as she lay on a bench, while others jeered, beat her, robbed her and took photos with their cell phones," reported the Times.

This story is appalling in many ways. Being the victim of rape is horrible enough, but to have a group of people see an atrocity happening and not do a thing to help is just plain evil.

As I was pondering the depths of depravity of these so-called human beings, it made me stop and think about doing the right thing in general. If I was passing by Richmond High School that night, would I have stopped and tried to intervene in the violence unfolding? I would like to think yes. What if the perpetrators threatened me with a knife? With a gun? Would I risk my life to help a stranger? I still would like to say yes, but it makes me hesitate in my answer.

What would you do if... is a popular game to play. I have often tormented my husband on long car rides with questions such as, "What would you do if I was in an accident and lost the use of my legs?" or "What would you do if my mother got sick and wanted to move in with us?"

This hypothetical situation game is a way to evaluate our loved ones' and our own responses to tragedy. But when tragedy actually strikes, will we do what we said we would?

"What would you do if terrorists attacked the plane you were on?" was a common 'what if' question, until Sept. 11, 2001 turned 'what if' into history.

The passengers of United Flight 93 on that September morning probably thought the chances of them being caught in the middle of a terrorist plot to hurt the United States was just as improbable as being abducted by aliens - until it became reality.

Those brave men and women didn't just talk about doing the right thing, they actually did it. When you think about the actions of the United Flight 93 passengers, it is nothing short of amazing. According to reports, the passengers decided that the only way to prevent the plane they were on from being used as a terrorist weapon was to rush the hijackers.

I'm pretty sure most of the passengers knew that their chosen course of action was likely to lead to their deaths. But they decided that their own mortality was not as important as doing the right thing.

This kind of courage and sacrifice is a rare thing. But if everyone acted with just one tenth of the inner strength that the United Flight 93 passengers had then there would be less suffering in the world, or at least ended one Richmond girl's personal horror a lot sooner.