Op-Ed

The Kind of Hero We Need (a #WATWB Post)

28 Apr , 2018  

No Time to Waffle

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.

Courage and Character

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.

No Cape or Leotard Needed

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.


We Are the World Blogfest

Our cohosts for this month are:  Shilpa GargDan AntionSimon FalkMichelle Wallace , Mary Giese. Please do check out their posts, as well, and leave a comment – even if it’s just to say, “Hello!”

If you blog, you’re invited to join in the the #WATWB. Here are the guidelines:

1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible.

2. Link to a human news story on your blog, one that shows love, humanity, and brotherhood. Paste in an excerpt and tell us why it touched you. The link is important, because it actually makes us look through news to find the positive ones to post.

3. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD badge or banner on your post and your sidebar.

5. Help us spread the word on social media. Feel free to tweet and share using the #WATWB hastag to help us trend!

Tweets, Facebook shares, Pins, Instagram, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. We’ll try to follow and share all those who post on the #WATWB hashtag, and we encourage you to do the same. Click here to enter your link and join us! The bigger the #WATWB group each month, the more joy! You will get a reminder a few days in advance each month, and we look forward to reading all your positive, heartwarming WATWB posts!

Where to find the others:

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4 Responses

  1. bikerchick57 says:

    Thank you so much for participating in #WATWB and bringing the story of Mr. Shaw front and center.

    “Courage isn’t fearlessness; it’s doing what needs to be done, despite the fear.”

    I understand this…not as a hero, but as someone who took action in a personal situation despite fear. I remember wondering, not too long after, “How did I do that?” Mr. Shaw did his courageous act because he wanted to live to see his child again, but I’m sure he has asked himself that question, among others. His humble attitude is commendable and to take it a step further and raise money for the victims speaks volumes of his caring heart.

    • Thank you for coming over to visit and read, Mary! I’m terrified of wasps, poisonous snakes, needles – basically tiny, pointy, sharp things with contaminants in them – but when my daughter was an infant, and a wasp had the sheer EFFRONTERY to be in her room, I hunted it down and smacked it HARD with the naked back of my hand. It fell to the floor, dead. And in that moment, I knew it could have been a tiger, and I would have done the same – there was white hot ICE in my veins, until I saw it lying there, no longer a threat. That moment of courage was overwhelming. The adrenaline crash was overwhelming. The sobbing lasted a good five minutes. But it felt good, too, knowing I did have it in me, if needed.

  2. pmlaberge says:

    You are right in that we should give these people a lot less attention. Actually, we should give them a lot MORE attention. Attention BEFORE they freak out.

    But we give them attention after. Well, of course! Everyone wants to know who did it. The news media (the few who care) need their 5 honest serving men served. And of course: The Historical Record. Theoretically it also keeps the governments and courts honest. Since we caught the “doer”, and published his name, then they authorities cannot grab someone off t5he street, and get their vengeance on him, as was often done during The French Revolution.

    So they freaks all know they can have their 15 minutes of fame. Sigh.

    But if the authorities were a bit more efficient and careful, we would likely not have these incidents. They had this young man well on their radar for some time. They had even taken away his guns. They gave the guns back to his dad, who gave them to him! NOT much of a father. You can be an absentee father, while standing right there, it seems.

    The reasons these people act out are multi varied. No not all “acting outs” can be predicted. But when you have them, what are the authorities running? A catch and release program?

    Even the Ryder Van guy in Toronto had shown a few signs. Just not enough to set off the radar.

    Now James Shaw Jr was a mix of right time, right place, dumb luck, self interest, and courage.
    He was hiding in the WC. But he peeked out the door at the right time. The gun malfunctioned and he was behind the killer. And as he said, “If I was going to act, it had to be then.” Indeed.

    Well at least he had his chance. None of the people in Toronto had a chance to act. The cop was a bit of a hero, but when a murderer asks you to shoot him in the head, I myself think you should do it. It saves millions of precious tax dollars.

    • Exactly. Kids need love and attention; they will settle for negative attention, if positive reinforcement is not forthcoming. Mental illness may play its part; however, we’re heading down a slippery slope, making that the easy scapegoat and stigmatizing the mentally ill all over again. People who are mentally ill are much more likely to be VICTIMS of violent crime than they are to be the perpetrators of it. We like to think “only a crazy person could do something like this,” but that lets everyone else off the hook. Just because A is the proximate cause does NOT mean B, C, and D did not share in A’s culpability – morally. I don’t think we can, or should, criminalize B, C, and D (necessarily), but we need to acknowledge the roles they play. Neglect, bullying, lack of education, lack of access to needed healthcare services, lack of good nutrition, lack of a place to sleep – it really does take a village to raise a child, AND to keep him a healthy adult. Which is different from mollycoddling anyone. It’s not one extreme or the other, but as a society, we’re a long way from recognizing and acting on that.

      In this case, I think Dad could be held legally responsible for returning the gun. I don’t know enough of the facts and evidence to make that assertion more definitely, but it seems likely.

      You’re right, in that we should know the names and the background of people picked up by police – not to assuage our curiosity, but for the safety of us all (we have more recent examples than the French Revolution, and people have short memories and an appalling lack of education in history). It needn’t get as much drama as it gets, though. It needn’t be the ticket to one’s desperate “15 minutes of fame.”

      Having someone “on the radar” but without enough to act on it is something we should all – in our weirder moments – contemplate. I don’t think we want to set the bar TOO low. Our privacy rights, and our individualism, are at stake. I do not want to have to worry about everyone – including me – who does not conform to the norm at every moment of the day. I do not want to worry that if I write a convoluted tale of horror, murder, and mayhem that the authorities will lock me in a cell. But sure, if wander around the cul-de-sac half naked, brandishing scissors and lunging at the neighbors, get me to a hospital – for my protection and theirs.

      On the flip side, we’ve spent decades playing amateur psychologists to one another. “Validating” every last weird little thought as “perfectly okay.” Giving out “participation trophies” and making people somehow feel inferior for not getting one, even with the bar THAT LOW. Look, waking up and breathing in the morning air is about all the “participation trophy” life hands anyone. It should be enough. We’ve set unreasonable expectations that, instead of making anyone feel truly GOOD about themselves, makes them feel BAD when they don’t get even that token acknowledgement. Then we MOCK them for feeling bad about it. That’s GOT to stop.

      You may be surprised to know that I (mostly) agree with you that if someone has committed a heinous, violent crime in full view of the cameras, and begs to be shot in the head, that might be the best way to end their torment and save a lot of time, money, and anguish for all (including the one begging for it). A lifetime commitment to the state’s mental health hospital is not necessarily a kindness. If we don’t believe rehabilitation is possible, and it’s that or the death penalty, then make it quick. But only where the evidence is so irrefutably evident.

      I can’t rejoice in anyone’s death. Even a mass murderer was once someone’s child: innocent, full of promise, deserving of love. God only knows who and what twisted them up so badly they’d inflict torture and death on others, but they didn’t start out that way, and if they did, it surely had to be a physiological malfunction. I don’t personally believe in “the Devil,” but I do believe one can be – or become – devoid of goodness. What I don’t know is, at what point does it become impossible to fill that void back up? Do we believe rehabilitation is possible? Or do we simply lock someone in a cage until we haul them out in a body bag? I’m glad we hold trials and consider the question on an individual basis, for the most part.

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