Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 4, 2002
Coward or hero - it's your choice
Act with courage and you live a life of honest grace
By SUZANNE ELSTON
We were channel surfing Saturday night when we came across a truly amazing program called Life 360. A production of PBS, the 60-minute show explores what binds us together - socially, psychologically, physically and across time. The program content could hardly be described as entertaining Saturday night fare, and yet both Brian and I found it strangely uplifting.
The show featured a story about a paramedic who served in Vietnam. The tale began in 1966, when a group of American soldiers were ambushed. Literally hundreds of men lay dead and dying on the ground when a young paramedic was dropped by helicopter into the fray.
As the survivors tell the story, in a matter of 90 minutes the paramedic performed life-saving triage on at least 40 wounded men until a spray of enemy bullets ended his own life. The Life 360 story focused on the lives of four of the men that the paramedic had saved, and what they had accomplished in the 36 years since that tragic day.
Later in the same show, there was a whimsical piece about Julius Caesar's last breath. According to scientific calculations, along with Caesar's last words, "Et tu Brutus", trillions of molecules were released into the atmosphere. Time and atmospheric conditions have literally spread those molecules around the planet, so that even today, with every breath we take, we inhale a molecule or two from the leader of the Roman Empire.
Both stories re-confirmed my conviction that everything we do has an impact on the world around us. The next morning, I had an example that hit even closer to home.
Our eldest son Matthew was working alone at a sub shop Saturday night when a drunk got out from behind the wheel of his car and entered the store. Matthew quietly called 9-11 and then stalled the drunk until the police could arrive. As the man attempted to drive away, two police cruisers intercepted him.
"If you hadn't stalled him, he would have most likely been on the road at the same time as my family," the customer said. "Who knows what could have happened. You may have saved our lives tonight, son."
It was one of those moments that made me proud to be a parent and a member of the human race. Occasionally, the good guys win. With one simple 911 call, my son may have changed the course of history. One of the children in that car could be destined to grow up and find the cure for cancer - or become a notorious criminal. Only time will tell.
There are times when the memory of tragic events paralyzes me - when I think of what could have happened - and then I am reminded of the words of Helen Keller.
"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing," she said.
Keller's life is an extraordinary example of how courage coupled with human kindness can change the world. Following an early childhood illness, Keller was left both blind and deaf. It was the sheer determination of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, coupled with Keller's own bravery, that ultimately altered our perception of the disabled and remapped the boundaries of sight and sense.
We can rarely choose the cards that fate will deal us. What we can decide is how will we react to those cards. Will we have the extraordinary courage to run into enemy fire to save soldiers we've never met? Will we have the courage to call 911 and take a drunk off the road? Will we have the everyday courage to live our lives despite the fear that crowds our post 9/11 world?
"I am a part of all that I have and that has touched me," wrote Thomas Wolfe. With that little tiny piece of Julius Caesar running through our veins we could change the world.
Recommended websites:To find out more about Life 360, including listing information, visit www.pbs.org/opb/life360.
* Life 360 offers curriculum resources online at http://www.pbs.org/teachersource.
To read about the life of Helen Keller, visit www.rnib.org.uk/wesupply/fctsheet/keller.htm.
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