Fit to Live

By
On September 11, 2001, two hijacked commercial airliners flew into Towers 1 and 2 of the World Trade Center in Manhattan.
Nearly every American is all too aware of the tragedy that is 9/11. We mourn the loss of 2,574 innocent civilians and solemnly acknowledge the 405 rescue personnel that sacrificed their lives coming to their aid.

We hear those four-hundred-five called, and righteously so, “heroes.” They gave their all, gave their lives, in an effort to save others. But over two-and-a-half-thousand victims still perished. Were these 405 efforts made in vain? Many would disagree. But then consider this situation:

On January 8, 2012, Steven Santiago was waiting for a train to arrive at a Staten Island station when he witnessed an apparently intoxicated man fall onto the tracks from the elevated platform. Santiago jumped down to help the man back up. The man made it to safety, but as Santiago readied himself to climb up to the platform, a train entered the station, clipping his head. Santiago later died from his injuries. His family later said that if “he had a coat on his back and you had none, he would give you his…” But the man he saved has yet to publicly express gratitude for his lifesaver.

Why would such a person as Santiago ever risk his life for a drunk? And a drunk who has not even thanked Santiago for his sacrifice? Was it even worth it for Santiago to give his life for this man? Many questions can be raised from such an event, but I believe that Santiago’s actions were every bit as justified as the 405 emergency responders at the World Trade Center. A life is a life, and to give one for another person is the most heroic sacrifice anyone can make.

I have always been fascinated with people willing to give their lives for a cause. Memorial Day services move me, at times almost to tears. I love my country, and to die for it – for all it stands for, the good and the bad and the ugly, the liberty and freedom and corruption and greed – is a sacrifice I believe any patriot should make with conviction. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “a man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.” I believe in these words; that each human being should endorse a worthy cause for which he is willing to give everything, up to and including his life.

But others don’t give the same regard to a life given in sacrifice. In 1963, when Buddhist monks sat motionlessly while burning themselves to death in protest of the Catholic Church, onlookers reached for their cameras. Holy men let themselves be silently engulfed by flame, and people snap pictures, putting their own documentation concerns before the lives of these martyrs. Even experts are wary of this ultimate sacrifice. Philip Zimbardo, one of the world’s premier psychologists, considers one with a willingness to risk their life to save another as having an “unusual personality,” and tosses them in the same room as serial killers and cannibals. I respectfully and absolutely disagree. One willing to give their life to do good deserves much better than a coward who preserves himself in order to do harm to others, or does harm to others in order to preserve himself.

After all, the risk one makes to save another can pay off exponentially. If anyone gave their life so I could live, I would feel forever indebted to live my life to the fullest not only for myself, but also for that person, for a savior. Some may know the story of a young farm boy named Alex:

One day, while working in the fields, Alex heard cries for help from a nearby pond. Another boy, in an effort to cool off, had jumped in to the water, and was now suffering a severe case of cramps. Alex disrobed and dove in after the boy, towing him to safety. The other boy’s wealthy parents, grateful to Alex for having saved their son, offered him any favor he wanted. Alex had always wanted to be a doctor, a luxury his poor family could not afford. So the boy’s parents paid Alex’s way through medical school. Years later, an antibiotic that Alex had discovered was flown to the Prime Minister of England to save him from a life-threatening bacterial illness. And so Alexander Fleming saved the life of Winston Churchill once again.


What if Fleming had decided not to save Churchill the first time? I think the world would be a very different place.





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