What Makes Someone a Hero?

This week, one of my neighbors proved herself to be a hero. A few days ago, she unhooked her children from their car seats and was standing outside of her car waiting for them to exit. While climbing through the front seat to exit the car, her son accidentally pushed the gears from park to neutral. Although the emergency break was on, the car started moving in reverse, down the steep hill. With seconds to act, Elana made a jump for the front seat, and missed. After the door took off a good portion of her left thigh, the front tire broke one ankle and one knee. Fortunately, when the car crashed, the children were uninjured and recovered quickly.

I’ve been considering Elana’s actions a lot since it happened. How many of us would have reacted in exactly the same manner, lunging for a moving car that might have crushed us? I’d like to say that I would, of course, do so.

But would I? In all honesty – I don’t know. Elana said today that anyone would have done what she did, as if it simply went without saying. I beg to differ.

Yes, I love my children; and, certainly, I want them to be safe. But, would I do what Elana did? I certainly hope that I’ll never be challenged into finding out what my nature is, but her accident has definitely given me pause.

And, of course, on 9-11 this topic is entirely relevant. I’m thinking today of the firefighters who raced up the burning building, while everyone else was racing down; of the amazing ordinary citizens who brought down the plane headed for Washington when they realized what their fate would be; and of the many other heroic acts that occurred that day.

What makes some people act like heroes in difficult situations, while others act to protect themselves? I am not, actually, in any way passing judgment on those who don’t act heroically, as I think it is actually in our nature to be self-serving. And being self-serving is entirely justified and understandable – which is why I marvel when people act heroically.

I’m in awe of Elana’s actions and at the lesson that she has taught her children. Sitting in her home in a wheelchair today with two broken legs, she has proven to them that they are protected – and that she would do anything for them.

I wonder if I would do the same thing in a similar situation.

Recover quickly, Elana, a true hero.

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