Last week, I watched new coverage of the ongoing hostage situation unfolding in Midland City, Alabama. Sixty-five year old Jimmy Lee Dykes had taken a 5 year old child off a school bus after fatally shooting the driver. Dykes held the boy hostage in an underground bunker for a week until negotiations broke down and authorities stormed the bunker, rescued the boy and killed his kidnapper. Much has been said of bus driver Charles Poland, and rightly so. Poland stood between Dykes and the children on the bus to protect them. He made the ultimate sacrifice. He died a hero.
That’s a word that’s bandied about a lot, isn’t it?
I’ve heard single parents called heroes because they must be both mother and father to their kids while working full time. I’ve heard teachers referred to as heroes because they’re required to be babysitters and counselors and well as educators. And while I don’t diminish the hard work and dedication it takes to be a single parent or a teacher, I suspect if you were to ask why they do what they do, most answers would be along the lines of, “What choice do I have? It’s what needs to be done. It’s what is expected.”
For me, being a hero involves going beyond what is expected; displaying courage and nobility when others do not. It’s about doing the right thing even if it puts your life in danger. Soldiers are heroes. First responders are heroes. Likely heroes.
And then there’s Kai, the homeless, hitchhiking, surfer, hippie. An unlikely hero, but a hero just the same:
In the unedited version of this news report, you learn a little more about Kai. At the very end of the tape, the reporter tells Kai that it seems he doesn’t seem to have any concern for himself, that he seems to be all about doing the right thing and not even worrying about “Kai first”. Kai’s short response really struck me:
“I don’t have any family. I mean, as far as anyone I grew up with is concerned I’m already dead. So…whatever.”
He probably doesn’t live a lifestyle most would condone or want for their own children. Fresno, California is a long way from where he said he grew up in West Virginia. If I had to guess I’d say he had a less than stellar childhood, has done many things he regrets and has relationships in his life he thinks are irreparably broken. But despite all the emotional baggage and regret he’s probably carried around much like that backpack, on this day, he did not let any of it weigh him down. He saw the opportunity to do what was right, what was heroic, and he took it.
May we all be so brave.
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“No matter what you’ve done you deserve respect. Even if you’ve made mistakes you’re lovable, and it doesn’t matter your looks, skills, or age, or size, or anything, you’re worthwhile. No one can ever take that away from you.” — Kai