” I rose halfway, leaned to the right, and cupped the object. I might as well have plucked volcanic lava from a crater. I could feel the flesh of my palm liquefying. Pain bolted up my arm like an electric current. In one fluid motion, I raised my right arm and started to throw the mass over the side of the vehicle, a short backhand toss. Then everything went dark.”
Words from a brave man who threw out a live grenade from an army truck in time to save his and many other lives in that Humvee. And he’s not even a soldier, but a Time magazine reporter.
His reward? A metallic right arm.
There’s been so many superhero films over the past 5 years. Besides the inane James Bond and Batman, we had the comic Superheroes of Spiderman, X-Men, Superman jostling for the cultural tag of modern day heroism.
But we forget some of the other heroes — real ordinary people like you and me in flesh and blood. And when we do extraordinary things, we suffer.. physically and mentally. Take this Times reporter for instance, he was merely there to do a job, interview some folks and get the hell out of danger’s abode in Iraq. He was unlucky, just once… Faced with a wholly alien concept of seeing a live grenade waiting to explode right before his eyes, and being the only one to detect mortal danger unravelling, he did the only rational and instinctive thing he could…
“Mostly, however, I was angry at myself for getting in the wrong Humvee, releasing the grenade too slowly, even grabbing it in the first place. Nothing would have happened if I hadn’t picked it up. Why had I been acting like a cowboy? Why hadn’t I just left the damn thing alone?”
Is he a hero?
Hollywood heroism concepts have evolved in recent years, to peel back the commercial sugar-coating and reality-distorting package of alpha-male icons who have boundless courage and abilities, kick ass, gets the babes and emerge totally unscathed, even from “nuclear armageddon” (did we really believe that?). From the cliched “with great power comes great responsibility” bullcrap of Spiderman to the Superman who turns green literally when faced with kryptonite, we now see more of the reluctance, the uncertainty, the moral dilemmas, the raw agony and personal sacrifices instead of a “feel-good” facade painted by shallow movie producers. The grim drawback of heroic deeds are truly stomach-churning stuff and faced by somewhat ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. Their claim to heroism: Doing “the right thing”, at perhaps an inopportune time.
When I was young, I always pondered how tangible is heroism outside of that silly silver screen. But really, it is a highly ubiquitous concept we just fail to appreciate in our daily lives. Because true heroism is neither heart-thumping, nor attention-seeking. There is no media machine to hype it up as well. But it resides in every corner of society, people toiling away and doing the right things based on their sensible and rational thinking. And like the flickering light of a candle flame in the wind, heroic deeds only show up in the light of day during the darkest hours of our times. Like the ex-Marine who leapt into the furnace of the 911 rescue efforts:
““Someone needed help. It didn’t matter who,” he said. “I didn’t even have a plan. But I have all this training as a Marine, and all I could think was, ‘My city is in need.”‘
I’m not a hero. I’m far from a hero. Those men who ran up in there are the heroes, whether it be law enforcement guys, fire department guys or even volunteers and coworkers. Those are the heroes.”
Sergeant Jason Thomas
US Marine who helped find a pair of police officers buried in the rubble at the World Trade Center on 9-11.
The name of the Time magazine reporter? Michael Weisskopf. But it could easily be you.
Do read the full Time article on this. Its very powerful. It made me wonder why we have to wait for personal tragedies or extremes in life to treasure it. It’s my mom’s 49th birthday today and I am in school blogging and writing my thesis instead of spending time with her. I sure ain’t gonna wait to lose before realizing what I had owned. I do hope you don’t too. =)