The last 30 hours have brought a whirl of reflections into my brain.  Some are not important.  For example, I could have sworn that the guy who jumped onto the tracks was wearing a white shirt, and he is decidedly not.  It’s crazy what you can get straight-up wrong.  I have reflections about feeling manly, that my strength was useful for something besides lifting heavy boxes and opening stubborn jars.  I reflect on death and our transience on this earth.  I also have a number of reflections as I compare this event to what happened seven years ago in London when I checked that thief into those slot machines (maybe I’ll post that story sometime).  But the one thought, or rather, the one train of thought worth sharing, is one that contains something genuinely new and exciting to me.

The film Love Actually is a good teacher.  It does a great job at showing how love is indeed much more prevalent than one might realize–just go to a big airport and watch people as they reunite.  The kisses are clumsy.  Everyone is hugging.  Love is thick and human.  I believe that despite monstrous war, greed, and avarice, love is actually more defining of our collective existence, only we rarely see it’s enormity and take note.  Sunday’s events proved to be another good teacher of how much love permeates my existence.  For example, I already knew my wife loved me desperately before this whole thing happened.  But apparently, my understanding did not come close to plumbing the massive depths of that love.  Likewise, I knew a number of people thought I was a good guy, but I had no idea how many people genuinely cared for me until I received several hundred emails and texts over the last few days.  But Sunday’s events proved a good teacher for a similar yet different reason.

Most of the texts and emails I received were effusive in their praise.  In many I was called a hero.  Being called a “hero” is a first for me and has had a surprising effect.  I love telling stories, but apparently only ones in which I am being a goofball.  This one I can’t seem to accurately tell without making myself look brave and heroic, and it makes me cringe.

Bravery is for special people, right?  Heroism is for really really awesome people, right?  Without ever fully articulating it, it has nevertheless been my belief that only a select few were truly brave and heroic.  So how can I tell this story which seems inextricable from my own acts of bravery?  In telling it, I feel like I am not just bragging a little, a long standing tradition of mine which I enjoy and have come to master; I am bragging a lot.

But I am conveniently mistaken in my understanding of heroism.  In truth, heroism is normal.  Bravery is normal.  Just like how love is in fact more abundant than selfishness and greed, bravery and heroism is more defining of our world than cowardice.

This is not some clever way of coming to terms with calling myself a hero (each time I say that I think of the song, “I can be your hero baby…”) or making my readers feel good about themselves ( Say “You’re a hero!”  “No, you’re a hero.”  “No, No, you’re a hero.” in a consecutively less sincere and higher pitched voice).  This seems to me to just be a rational response to the evidence.

I do not have the energy to give this point the passionate, intelligent argument it deserves or needs.  But I will say this: its seems ludicrous to suggest that the population on flight 93 were composed of the bravest people in America who by happenstance found themselves on the same flight.  It seems absurd to think that the firefighters serving at the World Trade Center were somehow a collection significantly braver and more heroic than those firefighters throughout the rest of the country, as if there was something magical in New York City drinking water.

Instead, these types of events, in which normal people act heroically, reveals more about what is normal than the person who happens to be acting.  This blows my mind!

A great many of us are heroes.  I am fortunate to enjoy some proof of my own courage, but having courage is not what makes me different.  It makes me normal, and that says something about all of us and should inform our perceptions of each other.  As we look at our mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters, we should recognize that they too are brave people.  They are heroes deserving respect.  For evidence will not make them a hero.  It will merely reveal what they already are.

So love is more abundant than hate; heroism and courage is more widespread than cowardice.  But that’s only a start.  What I want for all of us is a radically altered perspective of the world which recognizes more accurately its incalculable glory and beauty.  This is not some blind optimism conjured by the hysterics associated with dramatic life-and-death situations.  I vigorously defend this confidence, and try to make it infectious, in a manuscript entitled Therefore Joy.  The book’s train of thought, grounded in the most basic beliefs shared by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, leaves me in a place where I expect to find things like beauty, love, and heroism around every corner.  These ideas, this insatiable expectation that I will see more and more joyous sights, has changed my life and the lives of a few of my friends, but that is all the change I have been capable of so far.

During the Fox5 interview, the reporter asked me what I was still hoping to get out of this experience.  A number of things popped into my head.  For example, I would really like to meet up with Wes someday, have a beer, and make sure he’s ok.  I would really like to learn more about trains.  Mostly and especially, I really need some sleep.  But what I was particularly excited about is something that has already started happening; people are paying attention.  Maybe if enough people check out my blog, or subscribe to it, I can convince a publisher to take a chance on me, and I can finally get these ideas out there where they might be helpful for more people.  Besides that, I’m good to go, which clearly means that I am ridiculously blessed.

Thanks to all of you who have written and shown your support and love over the past day or so.  I am sorry I have not been able to reply to everyone.  Also, you can likely expect us to return to our regularly scheduled programming soon.  I promised my mother to keep my adventures more intellectual than real for a while.


About Jer Clifton

Look up, friend. The world is too beautiful for my eyes alone. View all posts by Jer Clifton

5 responses to “Reflections

  • Alexander Lipnicki

    We need some high seas adventures to add to this real heroism. Or at least low seas.

  • Lucas

    You just earned yourself another subscriber! I saw the whole thing go down on Sunday and that guy is extremely lucky he is not dead. That being said he is extremely stupid for what he attempted and I am glad that he will be charged for his actions.

    I’m glad you listened to that one guy yelling at you to not jump in or touch him. You were very level headed and kept your cool throughout the whole situation. Most people would have helped but probably would have panicked.

    Well done. Email me if you have any questions about what I saw.


  • Jeanne Wilson

    Jeremy, what I see in you is a Great Humble guy who loves life, people and sees value. Thank you for being an example of what we all should be. I am so proud of you ! More important, God is pleased, and that is the Key !

  • Jon Weaver

    Sounds like you went through an ordeal there. I think your actions were heroic. It is, as always, great to hear about you, and this is a great story. I’m not sure I agree completely with your conclusions. Here are my thoughts:

    I often wonder about what would happen if I was in a situation where a heroic deed was required. I sometimes fantasize about what would happen if I saw a bus about to hit a kid on a tricycle. Would I pull the kid away? I’d like to think that I would, but I don’t know. I probably will never know. However, I think most people actually could be heroes all the time, but we don’t know how. We don’t know because we don’t want to look at difficult situations that need heroic people to step in. Or maybe we are willing to look at difficult situations, but we are immobilized by pity. Or maybe we see difficult situations, want to help, but we are lazy, or we are too wrapped up in our own world.

    Your background and life experiences, as you mentioned, give you the ability to know 1. when there is heroic option 2. exactly how to choose the heroic choice, and how to enact it and 3. the courage to follow through. I would guess that most people have none of these qualities. We all may have the motivation to do the right thing, but if we aren’t prepared, knowledgeable, and watchful, how are we ever going to be heroes?

    I guess my point is that you shouldn’t be so quick to assume that you are only as heroic as anyone else. It’s a complicated issue, but you are more of a hero than most. All that aside, I appreciate your optimism about humanity. Yet another heroic quality 😉

    • JDW Clifton

      Jon, I finally have a moment to respond:

      First, good to hear from you. I’m glad you’ve subscribed.

      Second, if you had presence of mind, I think you totally would pull the kid away. If you do not have presence of mind and freeze up, than that is just because the situation is so unreal and paralyzing. Its training dude. Completely unique situations, of all types, are paralyzing because we are trying to figure out what to do. So yeah, if you trained to pull a kid out of the way, if you went through scenarios, if you purposefully went about training yourself to do it, and then decided in the last moment that you would rather live than the kid, that’s one thing. But that is not you. I think the whole idea that what you do in those moments reveals who you really are is a bit absurd. It reveals something, but I think sacrificing your own life by working hard and giving your kids a chance to succeed in life. Shit like that is the real thing, or at least more the real thing than we usually give credit for.

      I think your second to last paragraph is pretty much right on, except that many people have the courage. I think about my friends in high school, and I would imagine that nearly all of them are just as courageous as me, including you, Peter O, Rob, eric, Jon chang, etc.

      Good to hear from you buddy! Someday we will live close to each other and that will be awesome. Until then…

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