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.