Monday, August 21, 2006

The valor of men on the street

Many years ago, I was walking around a biggish city with a handful of traveling companions (both men and women, if I remember right) and we came across a madman in a park. He was ranting about how women were of the devil and God wanted him to kill one. I made the mistake of looking in his direction. Suddenly all his focus was on me and all of it vicious. We had eye contact, and I was stunned by the force of his hatred. My companions panicked or something; at any rate they drew back, leaving me front and center across a small clearing from a guy who was declaring his intent to kill a woman, any woman, just because she was a woman. (Definitely one of the worst moments of my life.) Seemingly out of nowhere men materialized, from all directions, some to tackle the guy and some to grab my paralyzed self and pull me to safety. A couple of them indulgently told me I needed to learn not to look directly at crazies. (Bad street smarts. Very, very bad street smarts.) Once I was safely out of sight and reach of the lunatic the men wandered off in all directions, and were gone. I did not know a single one of my rescuers. I'm fairly sure most of them didn't know one another. I wanted to say thank you, but they'd gone back to their own lives by the time I got my voice back.

I could give you other examples, albeit less dramatic, of men coming to my rescue even though they didn't know me from Adam. They just swooped in, made sure everything was all right, and then went happily on their way, usually shrugging off my thanks with some lowkey variation of "Ah, shucks, t'weren't nothin' ma'am." Anonymously. Just to help. Just to protect. Just because they were stronger or braver than me or were afraid I was in over my head. And I'm grateful to every one of them. Hooray for Western Civilization, I say; what other society turns out such selfless, valorous men?

Sometimes, of course, when men risk their lives they lose them. My heart goes out to the families of the woman and men who died in this incident. I hope they can understand how much it means to the rest of us - well, me anyway - that there are families that produce such people. I, for one, know I am in their debt. (Via Bookworm.)


Bookworm said...

Amazing. I provide a little link, and you create a beautiful, compelling story.

I am always surprised about the human capacity for sacrifice. Think of soldiers who put their own lives at risk to rescue someone else. Logic says you shouldn't do that? A live in the hand is worth two in the possible rescue, or some silly aphorism like that. And yet people routinely are willing to risk themselves to save others -- strangers as well as friends and family. This human capacity for good is a wonderful thing and something that easily distinguishes us from other life forms.

Patrick O'Hannigan said...

I'm glad Bookworm linked back to you, Kathryn. My hat's off to those guys, and I hope I'm one of them.