(A weekly portion of a book I am slowly writing entitled “Preferring Paralyzation,” which I hope to publish in some form in 2012!)
“Watch what normal folks do. As [Jared] Loughner nears the end of his extended ammunition clip, an unidentified man in the crowd stands up beside the rampaging gunman, grabs a folding chair and smashes it across Loughner’s back. As the gunman staggers, his left hand flies out, and Bill Badger, a retired U.S. Army colonel, grabs it and twists. ‘Bill is a man of action,’ his wife later explained.
Badger has blood streaming from a head wound as he shoves the killer to the ground. Screaming and thrashing, Loughner digs in his pocket for another clip, but Patricia Maisch, who had been wondering a split second earlier what it would feel like if a bullet hit her, snatches the ammo and pries it from his grip. And now a looming doctor named Steve Rayle throws himself onto Loughner’s midsection, and burly Joseph Zamudio comes dashing up from Walgreens and falls on Loughner’s flailing legs. ‘I didn’t think about it,’ Zamudio said afterward. ‘I just heard something and tried to help.
The shooting is over.
Nearby sits Daniel Hernandez, a young intern for Giffords. He was directing traffic when he heard the first shots. He ran towards the danger, figuring that his first-aid training would be needed. He arrived to find Giffords horribly wounded, in danger of choking on her own blood, and now is holding her upright in his lap and soothing her as he presses his hand onto her shattered face to stem the bleeding. She seems to know what is happening–which is, among other things, that this young man is saving her life.
‘Of course you’re afraid,’ Hernandez mused later. ‘You just kind of have to do what you can.’
How many times have we heard this story? The one about people rising to the occasion, storming the cockpit of the hijacked jet, racing into the burning building, tackling the gunman, saving a life. They hear something and try to help. Of course they’re afraid, but they just have to do what they can. This is how normal fights back, by rejecting fear and choosing courage” (David Von Drehle writing on the Tuscon shooting tragedy, “1 Madman And A Gun,” Time Magazine, January 24th, 2011).
Tears falling from my eyes, I gaze within, stunned at how deeply I resonate with the actions of normal Americans one Saturday morning. The pit in my stomach turns not only for yet another senseless tragedy sparked by a (likely) deeply sick man, but more due to the welling desire within me to live in a similar manner. My sense of self is so skewed the majority of each day, and I find myself compensating for what I fear is lacking or faking my way forward with a strength I do not possess in reality.
Could I do this? Would I move towards a gunman, throwing myself squarely in the middle of great danger, if the moment called for such an action? I remember the dizzying days following September 11th, 2001 were filled with such questions. As college seniors, we were ripe for the renewed discussion of instituting a military draft. Talk of whether we would enlist littered our conservative Christian campus, young men declaring they would participate in a war not even understood. Regardless of belief in war or the practice of non-violence, we were all swept into the discussion, carried away by a desire to live courageously in the face of unmitigated danger.
Fear was palpable in those days, a lump in one’s throat seemingly present at all hours. And yet, courage boxed fear into a corner, stories of everyday people doing what they could to engage what was right in front of them, fighting to live no matter the cost.
Normal fights back through choosing courage in the face of insurmountable fear, denying the lump in one’s throat and the growing pit in one’s stomach for the chance that something deeper may be gained. I have resisted the notion that courage is a choice for much of my life, preferring paralyzation, an inaction that culminates in the opposite of life. It always seemed as if some people were simply born courageous, and God rushed through that part of my assembly. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Courage is not bestowed, it is chosen. Fear withers as one moves forward in spite of one’s self. There is simply no other way.