Flugtag 88 taught me a lot about heroes–what they are and what they are not. Flugtag 88 was the last Ramstein Air Base air show in Germany ever. The airshow at the American base had begun in the 1950’s but ended forever in tragedy that day in 1988 when two Italian planes collided over the crowd, burning scores of people to death below them.
I was not at the airshow that day but I was a couple of hours away, living in Stuttgart.
How well I remember the initial enthusiasm about a photo that was published of a man running from the flames, then suddenly turning around to go scoop up an injured infant from the ground, bearing her to safety. That shot almost became the iconic image of Flugtag 88.
Until . . . it was revealed that the man was the child’s father. He did not sacrificially run to rescue a random stranger. He went back to get his daughter whom he had forgotten . . .
I have thought long and hard about heroes since then. Would I ever be one? Would I never be one? Is there any way to tell who will become a hero before disaster actually strikes? I posit that no, we can’t say in advance who would or would not be a hero.
Actually, I think statements made in advance of anticipated heroism are much like six year old boys trash talking about their athletic prowess. It is easy to be a legend in one’s own mind.
Thus it was that a couple of weeks ago I entered a conversation of people bragging about how they would protect victims of crime if given half a chance to do so. They were especially convinced that they might do well if they went into a crisis armed . . .
I did not realize initially that they were referring to the radical Muslim who cut off a coworker’s head in the U.S., then went after a second coworker, nearly decapitating her, too. They were stating that they knew they would stand up to this man and his violence if they were there on the scene.
I meekly stated that the only people I am relatively sure I would protect are my family.
That statement produced an outpouring of scorn that was unbelievable. Someone asked me why my family’s lives are more important than anyone else’s, never realizing that I meant it as an example of how God has given me responsibility for my own family, just as others are responsible for theirs. It does not mean that the families of others are worth less, just that if you have to choose in a crisis . . . (well, that is one reason God set us in families–to protect each other).
Americans are so quick to rush to judgment these days that they rarely even read someone’s position accurately, let alone think it through. I certainly saw that in this conversation. I was actually thinking of the shooting in the Denver theater and how if I had been there with our special needs son, I would have probably dropped him to the floor and crawled with him to the exit, getting him outside and staying with him.
And the people “conversing” with me said, “For shame–you would only protect your own family, no one else?” without realizing that, as the mother of a son with special needs, I have learned that taking care of him can be a fulltime endeavour. If I left him to protect someone else, he would likely follow me right back into peril.
But the folks who are intent on heaping shame on others don’t stop to think like that. Their heroism, which exists only in their head usually, trumps my admission that I have spent my son’s lifetime protecting him.
What is interesting is that these folks are always bragging about how they would shoot a deranged armed man to stop him from killing more people. They are so protective of strangers, they brag. Until . . .
What if I had asked them why they are not on their way to Liberia right now to protect people from the ebola virus? The need for caregivers is certainly great.
But no, they only want to shoot bad guys, not protect innocent babies from getting a virus. Which proves to me that they are not so much about protecting people as about reacting against bullies. And I have very little patience for people whose own motives are so unclear to them that they can’t see the logic of a challenge to do good to *all people, not just the victims of particular crimes.
If you are a hero, you have to be a hero in all circumstances, not just the ones you handpick for yourself!
P.S. I left the conversation when the word “shame” was hurled and said why I did so. I don’t let people pile on–especially when they are making theoretical statements about how much more moral their actions would be than mine.
We have never, so far, gotten into a crisis to compare which of us would respond well. And hopefully we never will . . .