A reader writes … By Jim Shinn

October 29, 2001

This essay contains true stories of heroism. Don't worry. It's not about me.

One of my favorite movies is "Hero" with Dustin Hoffman and Andy Garcia. What I will always remember from the flick is that "we are all heroes; it just depends on when you watch us."

When we witness heroism, sometimes we don't recognize it at the time. The story begins back in the late 1970s where I witnessed heroism. The characters will remain anonymous, but some of you readers will know who I am writing about.

As was culturally correct in the turbulent times of the "Sinful Seventies," myself and others had organized an annual "Beggars' Banquet." This celebration of sorts was where we would have a huge potluck, live rock'n'roll music and barrels of beverages which I haven't touched for 15 years. (Remember kids, say "NO" to drugs and alcohol … Do what I say … not what I did!). When it comes to substance abuse, there are no heroes.


Anyway, on the fateful night, the party began at noon, which was the custom. Food, friends and fun. In the evening, several hours and barrels later, an orange glow appeared on the eastern horizon. Some of the party participants, because of their level of inebriation, may have thought it was the sun rising.

My friends the firefighters recognized it as a fire, which the next day we all came to know as the "melting" of Shipper's Ice on Commercial Avenue in El Centro.

I was shocked that evening when my friends the firefighters, all of a sudden forgot all about the wine, women and song and took off for a duty I could not understand. As a matter of fact, I think I even tried to talk them out of going, not so much because of any protectiveness I felt but because of my own self-centeredness at that life stage. I had no clue about "service above self"!

One of my firefighter friends almost got seriously hurt that night because of his commitment to his job. Later, it made me aware of how our public safety people (firefighters, law enforcement, National Guard, etc.), put their lives on the line on a regular basis.

This memory of valor came back during the recent weeks, where as a nation, we have had the gift of collectively celebrating heroism in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the trade center towers. We have all had a front-row seat, observing the amazing feats of saving, search and rescue. Many firefighters are dead today because they chose to "go back in" knowing not their fate. Others continue their efforts but it has changed from saving people to evidence gathering of information about the perpetrators and their victims.

I don't really know what motivates firefighters anymore than I understand the ability of people to work long hours out in the fields during the summer months. The word that comes to mind is sacrifice.

In this time of war, more sacrifice will be called for, whether it be inconvenience for the public or fighting from our friends in the armed forces. Anything important requires a cost to be paid. I believe we are up to the task.

The efforts in New York encourage all of us to elevate our personal level of humanity to a higher level of service.

Be cautioned that in raising up others as heroes, we need not devalue our own efforts and roles. This is a team effort and we all have important positions to play.

Whether you need courage, comfort or power to "be all you can be" in the battle, I suggest you have a conversation with the Fire Chief, or the No. 1 firefighter of all time, Christ Jesus. He has saved millions from the fire and desires that "none shall perish." Also, He is definitely a hero you can look up to.

Jim Shinn is an El Centro resident and a counselor at De Anza Junior High in Calexico.

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