By definition, heroes do great things. One of the greatest things they do is make the rest of us proud to belong to the human race.
We’ve seen some extraordinary acts of courage in recent days:
▪ In this state, thousands of firefighters, some from the South Sound, some from as far away as Australia, have been battling to contain the worst wildfires in Washington’s history. They’ve been doing back-breaking shovel work and other hard labor in grueling 14-day shifts.
It can be a dangerous job, as attested by the deaths of three young men near Twisp last week and the severe burns suffered by a Puyallup man, Daniel Lyon.
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▪ On the other side of the Atlantic, four Americans, a Briton and a Frenchman tackled a heavily armed would-be terrorist on a high speed train Friday, probably saving many of the 500 passengers on board. This was raw physical bravery.
One American, a 51-year-old teacher, was shot at the outset of the struggle. Then three twenty-something Americans subdued and hog-tied the Moroccan-born attacker. One of them, Spencer Stone, was slashed by a box-cutter — yet stanched the older man’s bleeding.
“I think everyone in my situation would have done the same thing," he said. Not really. The train car was filled with others who just watched.
▪ In Syria’s city of Palmyra, the depraved Islamic State beheaded and hanged an 82-year-old archaeologist, Khaled Asaad, last week. The Islamic State has been destroying ancient sculptures and monuments in the Middle Eastern territory it controls; Asaad had refused to give up information on Palmyra’s Roman-era treasures, which he had tended for 50 years.
His resistance wasn’t a dramatic act of grace under fire; it was a display of sacrificial moral courage.
▪ Jimmy Carter, the 90-year-old former president, showed what spiritual courage looks like last Thursday. Announcing that melanoma had spread to his brain, he said, “I’m ready for anything, and looking forward to a new adventure.”
On Sunday, at his modest Baptist church in Plains, Georgia, he cheerfully discussed his condition for a few minutes, then proceeded to teach a Sunday school lesson. It was entirely in character. Carter has had an exemplary post-presidential career, advocating for human rights, leading humanitarian efforts and nearly eradicating the parasitical Guinea worm in Africa.
▪ Perseverance in the face of adversity is another form of heroism. Two West Point graduates, Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, exemplified it a few days ago when they became the first female graduates of the Army’s legendarily tough Ranger school.
The 61-day course requires that trainees operate effectively “under conditions of extreme mental and physical stress.” Of 398 Ranger candidates who started the course with Griest and Haver, only 96 graduated. Although women don’t serve in ground combat roles in the U.S. military, these two left no doubt that some females can outperform the great majority of men.
Human beings can be grasping, self-indulgent and cruel. Heroism is a reminder that we can also rise far above the ordinary. To all of them, thanks for the inspiration.