Saturday, April 21, 2007

True Heroism: doing what you have to do

A couple of years ago I was given a sobering definition of a "hero": "someone who does what they are supposed to do". The definition was offered in the context of idol worship, particularly in treating human beings as objects of veneration. Someone racing into a burning building in order to rescue a baby trapped within, the argument went, was merely doing what was expected of them; what else would they do, just sit around and let an innocent child be burned to death?? Of course they would rush in and risk their own life and limb: that was what you would be expected to do, since there was another innocent life at greater risk, one that the figure in this example might be in a position to assist, through their action.
As I say, that was a rather startling revelation for me, as I had always viewed heroism as doing something that you **didn't** need to do, but did anyway. Turning the tables like that, viewing heroism as a basic obligation, presented as the least that you should do, rather than the most one could offer... it was a new way for me to see myself and my world around me, one demanding a connection and commitment to others that I still struggle to live up to.

That struggle has been given new meaning to me again this morning. Reading the following account of the funeral of Professor Liviu Librescu, the 76-year old Holocaust survivor who sacrificed his life in the recent Virginia Tech massacre so that others may live, I was arrested in my tracks by seeing the professor's family striving to express similar sentiments of obligation and duty. From the Jerusalem Post: "I only did what I had to do":
The professor's other son, Arie, said his father had "always said to be strong." "Father, I believe that at this moment you're looking down on us from above and saying, what is all this crowing around? I only did what I had to do. From our childhood, you taught us to care for people, to work hard, to succeed, but you never taught us to be heroes. It is more theoretical a lesson than aerodynamics," he said. "A hero must have the right combination of certain attributes, and you had them."

The other family members offer sign after sign of the gratitude they feel for having had such a great man in their life. How difficult this must be for them, in a time such as this when they have been delt such a tremendous loss... so much is missing from their life, yet they persevere to find all that their lives have been given, instead:

Speaking at the ceremony, Librescu's son Joe lamented the questions he had never asked his father. "They're asking me today about your past, and I don't know what to tell them," he said. "I'm proud of you. I walk today with [my] head held high."
"Sometimes I didn't hear you, but my ears are now wide open to your legacy," he went on. "I'm doing my best, reaching to the moon - I know I can reach it because of you."
Librescu's wife, Marlena, mourned the loss of "not just a husband, but my best friend."
"I was blessed to be with him each day for 42 years - to learn from his wisdom, to receive his advice - and I thank you for giving me our two children. I'm now blessed to be with them," said Marlena.
"I ask forgiveness from you for every time I upset you. I hope you will protect your family from where you reside now," she said, adding, "I have only the good left from you.... May it go easy for you, my sweetheart."

Arie thanked family, friends and neighbors in Israel and around the world for all they had done for the family - and particularly for his mother - in their time of loss.
He added special thanks for "a righteous man, an organization, Chabad, someone who drove five hours to mother [the day of the shooting] and made sure the body would come to Israel as soon as possible."
Librescu was laid to rest in the Kfar Nahman cemetery in Ra'anana at approximately 12 p.m.

Surrounded by so much pain and so much loss, the family still strive to find good in their life:
According to Arie, his father "used every spare minute to do what he loved." Speaking of his father's teaching, Librescu said that "the courses in aerodynamics have ended. On the 16th of the month, you started a new career, teaching a new subject - heroism - [which] millions of students are learning."

We should all become students of the example of Professor Librescu. Not because we want to: because we **have to**, it is what we **should** be doing.
It is The Right Thing for a human being to do.

(HT to Boker Tov, Boulder, for highlighting this important story)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Similarly, being brave does not mean never being afraid; instead it means doing something, perhaps 'what you have to do', even though you are afraid.