April 17, 2009
There are days when the news seems surreal. So often we wonder if we really understood what we heard or read. "Pirates Off the Coast of Somalia." "Airliner Lands on the Hudson River."
Surely, we misunderstood. If these stories were a made-for-TV movie, they would be beyond belief, just some Hollywood scriptwriter''s hyperbole. Except for those who have lived under a rock in recent weeks, we know that both headlines are true.
These two situations were dramatic and terrifying. Fortunately, both had happy endings. (Well, not so much for the pirates.) They had something else in common, as well. The US Airways jet and the cargo ship, Maersk Alabama, had amazing captains. They behaved with heroism and composure in horrific situations.
Captain Chesley Sullenberger is certainly responsible for saving the lives of everyone on board Flight 1549. Captain Richard Phillips offered himself as a hostage in exchange for the safety of his crew. They knew what to do and acted instinctively. I suppose these men are the commanders of their vessels because someone recognized that strength in them and thrust them into the role they deserved.
The actions of both men were the result not only of extreme bravery, but also of years of preparation and experience. "I spent my whole life training for this moment," said Sullenberger. "I knew I could do it."
His response, besides the charming humility, is part of what makes him admirable. Truly, not just anyone could have done what they did. But, much credit should go to the decades of study, and the perseverance to focus on a goal.
I keep thinking about people who are grooming themselves, every day, for the once-in-a-lifetime situation. There are men and women who practice and plan for that split second of panic that would make the rest of us freeze with fear.
In our community we have wonderful fire and police departments. These people put their lives in jeopardy for us all.
I know almost no one personally in these careers. But, I also know that I would expect them to arrive, in seconds, if my house were on fire or invaded by a burglar. They would have to do whatever necessary to solve the problem.
Climb on the roof? Save my pets? Arrest someone who may be violent and insane? Yes, all of this and more. And, they must do it while wearing heavy boots, or helmets, or weapons. I demand super heroes. The crazy thing is, I would probably get them.
We have people in Columbus who are ready to risk their own lives for us, though most of us are strangers to them.
Maybe they haven''t had a chance to land a jet on water, or stand up to modern pirates with assault rifles, but, I''ll bet that they would.
I suggest a special day to honor these very exceptional men and women. After all, there are days set aside for much more ordinary folks. We could bring cookies, or pizzas to the firehouse or police station. We could sing songs or plant flowers in their honor.
Or, perhaps, until that day becomes a reality, we could just say ''thank you.'' They may not have received national publicity for their work, but they deserve it.
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina. E-mail reaches her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina.