Rethinking Heroism

for the week of September 24, 2001
by Rubel Shelly

Note: Starting Today: Scriptures and Stories for the Daily Grind, a collection of 90 "FAX of Life" essays is now available in bookstores everywhere or online at FaithMatters.com

I think we've been using the word "hero" a bit too loosely over the past few years. Oh, I don't want to claim that we've used it of bad or indecent people. But we've hung it on singers, athletes, high-rolling entrepreneurs, and actors. "Good," "talented," "successful," and other titles may work for them. But not "hero."

We were reminded of the special people to whom that title belongs in the aftermath of four murderous plane crashes on Sept.11. A flight attendant phoned in to her company what was happening aboard her New York-bound plane. More than 300 firefighters and dozens of police officers died trying to help victims of the attack on New York's World Trade Center. Mayor Giuliani led his city by being tough enough to walk over its rubble and tender enough to weep over its casualties.

Todd Beamer, Thomas Burnett, and Jeremy Glick — perhaps others on the flight as well — fought the hijackers on United Airlines Flight 93 when it became apparent to them what was happening. Their actions appear to be what kept that flight's terrorist-hijackers from inflicting more damage on our nation's capitol. The plane they were on crashed nose-down in an unpopulated area of Pennsylvania.

"We will never know for sure," said Vice President Dick Cheney on NBC's Meet the Press. "But without question the attack would have been much worse if it hadn't been for the courageous acts of those individuals on United #93."

Lyzbeth Glick was with their three-month-old daughter, Emmie, when she received her husband's frantic call. Initially she pleaded with him to sit down and not to call attention to himself. Her instincts were to beg him to do whatever was necessary to try to save himself. But her 31-year-old husband let her know it was not that sort of situation. It was far more desperate than personal survival, and he and a few other passengers had already decided to attack the hijackers.

"I told him to go ahead and do it," Lyzbeth told ABC News. "I trusted his instincts, and I said ‘Do what you have to do.' I knew that — I thought he could do it." Jeremy told her to stay on the line and that he would come back to tell her what came of the plan. He never did. The plane slammed into the ground.

We'll learn precious few stories of the thousands killed who died bravely. They died trying to spare others or trying to rescue the wounded and dying. Only one word indisputably fits them, and it shouldn't be tarnished by putting it on athletic hoop-shooters or economic crap-shooters. They are our genuine heroes.




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