There was terrible news in a neighboring county last week when a Blue Angels pilot crashed while practicing for an upcoming air show at the local base. By all accounts, he died a hero, using his precious last few seconds to pilot his jet away from a residential area instead of using that time to eject safely. He was a young man and left behind a young wife and children and, undoubtedly, many other family members and hosts of friends. I know they will forever mourn his death and celebrate his bravery.
I’ve been thinking about Captain Jeff Kuss all week. He probably never consciously thought, “I will die a hero.” I think few of us expect that. But maybe that just means we underestimate our opportunities or ourselves. While we may not necessarily die in such heroic ways as Captain Kuss or military veterans or police officers or firefighters or freedom fighters, we can still make choices that are heroic in our own lives. We can find ways to be heroes in our homes, our churches, our streets, our communities, our world. We can take care of spouses and children. We can honor the elderly, including our parents and grandparents. We can be kind to animals and children and others who are weaker than we are, and protect them. We can adopt a toddler from China where orphanages are too many to count. We can work hard and contribute. We can support charitable works according to our skills and means. We can speak up and recognize that if we are neutral in situations of injustice, we are not neutral.
It can be an act of heroism to step up and step out of our comfort zone. Yes, we CAN lead lives of quiet desperation, as Thoreau once so famously wrote. OR we can lead lives of daily decisions and actions that make us a hero – maybe not like Captain Kuss – but a hero – someone’s hero - nonetheless.
After the space shuttle Challenger broke apart 30 years ago, President Reagan came on television and made a speech, quoting a poem by John Gillespie Magee. The poem begins with this soaring declaration of “Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth” … and ends with … “Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.” The poem, entitled “High Flight," really is about flight, not death. But I think the author, who tragically died in an air crash himself shortly after he penned this, would have considered it well used by our President.
I believe that when we touch the face of God in heaven, then God will see the faces of all those we’ve touched on earth. God surely wants us all to be heroes.