January 6, 2007
Just when the world needs a hero, one pops out of the crowd, makes his move, and then says, "Who, me?"
Wesley Autrey is just such a guy. Weary of all the coverage of the death of Gerald Ford, I spotted the human interest feature about him, the man who, standing in a subway station, saw someone fall onto the track just as an oncoming train screeched in. Autrey did what he says "anyone would do," and threw himself onto the track, covering the body with his own and held them both down low enough to avoid the oncoming train.
I watched re-enactments on television. I thought, "I wouldn't have done that." I racked my brain for anyone I know who would have. You never know, but I know myself pretty well and stick by my initial reaction. I would have thought how horrible it was, but I would have averted my eyes and maybe run from the scene. Others I know would have been fascinated and stayed to watch. But it takes a hero to do what Wesley Autrey did. My whole spirit is lifted to know that there is such a man walking among us.
He had received honors and awards for his deed, but all he says is, "I'm just enjoying my fifteen minutes of fame," and that the money will go to his kids for their college education when they need it. No doubt more honors and more money will come to him, but he isn't seeking it, and he truly seems to think he did nothing out of the ordinary.
I rented the Oliver Stone film World Trade Center yesterday and watched it last night. It was something like the WWII movies about war, but more real and more touching because it was telling a story of heroes, in a simple way, showing that they were simply doing what they felt they had to under the circumstances, which they felt was nothing out of the ordinary.
My late husband, a child of the Depression and G.I. during that war, often lamented that young people didn't have any heroes to look up to. His generation had venerated Lindbergh, he said. One day, when on this jag, he asked my teenage daughter if she had a hero. She thought about it and said to him, "Eleanor Roosevelt." I have never been prouder of her.
I do not tend to idolize people. Certainly the Lindbergh-hero model is tarnished (and he would not have been a hero of mine even if I had been of an age to see the historic flight to Paris). But I'll put all those people I don't know, all the Wesley Autreys who jump out of the crowd to perform a heroic feat, all the rescue workers of the world from the local firemen to the many who put their life on the line in the aftermath of the bombing of the twin towers, to those fighting in Iraq, on my list.
Would I do it? I don't think so. Would you?