Whenever I have time to daydream, I like to imagine myself in doomsday scenarios; aliens will land in New York, generic Eastern European armies will invade without warning, generally some variation on large-scale life-or-death situations. In these flights of fancy, I envision myself as the unlikely hero, the average Joe who steps up and takes responsibility, leading my rag-tag group of survivors, usually my classmates, to safety somewhere (it’s no wonder I was such a big fan of LOST). Integral to these imagined scenarios was the idea that it was me and me alone who led the way. Egocentric? Without a doubt, but satisfying, nonetheless. For some time, despite little evidence to suggest any such thing, I remained utterly convinced that, should such a situation arise, I would be the one to keep a cool head and get the situation under control. It wasn’t until the summer before my junior year that I had ever been thrust into any sort of high-stakes situation. Over that summer, I travelled to a town in northern France to participate in a work camp with other teens. There was another work camp nearby, and we quickly befriended them. On most nights, we would all stay up talking until after the supervisors had fallen asleep, and then wander off to explore the (admittedly quite small and boring) town that we were staying in. On one particular night, we returned from wandering to the main boulevard only to find a kid from the other camp having a violent seizure on the pavement. Whether it was because of the language barriers, or for personal reasons, he had neglected to tell anyone that he was epileptic. Without giving it much thought, I ran over to his side; recalling a small detail I had learned from House or some other television medical procedural, I held his head to keep him from doing serious damage to himself, and simultaneously used a combination of pidgin French and English to direct my fellow campers to wake the supervisors and prepare to contact emergency services if necessary. None of that ended up being necessary, however, as the seizure ended as quickly as it had apparently began, with the camper no worse for the wear. At the time, my reaction was purely instinctual and I thought little of it. But as I reflect on that night, I realize that, for the briefest of moments, I should have been elated, as morbid as that may sound. I was living out my fantasy of being the hero. While everyone else stood by and watched, I was the one who “leapt to action.” But it didn’t happen. It didn’t happen because what I did wasn’t heroic. It wasn’t even extraordinary. It was what was expected of me. It was my responsibility as a human being to help the young man I saw lying in front of me. I simply did what was expected of me. The relatively minor event is obviously incomparable to the grand fantasies that sometimes play out in my head, but I will remember it for many years to come. I learned that night (though it took some time to realize it) that I will never be a hero because there are no heroes; simply those who fulfill their duty to their fellow man by helping whenever and wherever they can to the greatest extent possible.
June 28, 2011