I’m convinced that nothing good happens in the wee hours of the morning, and it’s not proper to leave the house before coffee’s brewed and in the cup. But it’s not that simple: In those early morning hours, sleepy cities start to stir; babies are born; darkness gives way to dawn, and a hero emerges before breakfast is served.
It began with the absurd headline: Naked Gunman Opens Fire in Nashville Waffle House, Killing 4:
The gunman, described as a white man with short hair, is said to have abandoned his jacket and fled naked and on foot after a customer wrestled his rifle away from him.
I won’t name the suspect, who is in custody. He doesn’t deserve attention; his family, surely, would be happier without it. Unhinged attention seekers needn’t get big ideas. Instead, let’s focus on this customer, for a minute: James Shaw, Jr., who wrestled an AR-15 assault-type rifle away from a naked man intent on a side of killing before coffee.
Shaw says he’s not a hero. It isn’t false modesty, just honesty. Shaw says he acted “selfishly,” that he was just trying not to die, intent on saving himself. Shaw certainly wasn’t a “good guy with a gun.” Shaw was unarmed and had been grazed by one of the gunman’s bullets. Doubtless, the 29 year old father was hoping to survive the morning and get home to his little girl. He was hiding out, near the restrooms, and saw an opportunity to act.
“I think anybody could’ve did what I did if they’re just pushed in that kind of cage,” Shaw said, “and you have to either react or you’re going to, you know, fold.”
He may be right, but James Shaw Jr. is the one who pushed out of that cage to free himself, along with other diners and staff at the Antioch Waffle House, that morning. Tennessee lawmakers won’t let Shaw shirk the “hero” label so easily; they passed a resolution cementing him as one.
“I figured if I was going to die, he was going to have to work for it,” said Shaw. There was really no other way out, but through. Courage isn’t fearlessness; it’s doing what needs to be done, despite the fear. Shaw is the kind of hero we need more of – ordinary men and women, jumping up from the sidelines, doing courageous things. “Selfishly” saving themselves – and others, in the process.
When my son was eleven, he set out to earn the President’s Volunteer Service Award. Determined to earn the Gold medal, he overshot the mark and earned Bronze and Silver, too. He asked me if his community service “counted,” considering he was just doing it for the award. I was surprised he’d even thought to ask the question, young as he was. I thought about it for a minute, before answering, “The people you’re helping don’t know you or care about what motivates you.. They’re just as helped, either way.” Others may argue that it’s only a virtue if the act is utterly selfless and self-sacrificing, but few of us are saints. If someone helps me when I need it, I’m happy to think that it made them feel good or led to them receiving an award., especially if I’m not able to return the favor.
Now, James Shaw Jr. may think he’s not a hero, but he – more than any celebrity or fictional character on the silver screen – is exactly the kind of hero we need more of, today. He could’ve just stopped right there and rested on his laurels, but no – James Shaw Jr. wasn’t done.
We’re looking at a man who knows how lucky he is to be alive. Who wishes that opportunity to act had come before four people were killed and can’t quite feel like the “hero” others make him out to be. I’m betting he suffered a headache that went on for days, once the adrenaline left the building. For those who imagined what they might do in such circumstances – realizing, perhaps, that they’d have been looking for a window out of the restrooms – he’s provided an opportunity to step up and do a little good in the world, helping the victims’ families out a little bit, financially.
I think that most of us want to bring a little more light into the world, but don’t always recognize the opportunities when we’re focused on the darkness before coffee. Real “heroes” don’t usually set out to be “heroes.” Most are just trying to get through the day, and recognize that others are trying to do the same. Rather than kick up dirt and sand to win the rat race, heroes reach back, grab a fellow human by the hand, and pull.
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