Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Microstory 1842: A Human Being Dies

I used to wish I were a hero. When I was a very young girl, my grandfather took me to the town square. When I say he took me, I mean he stopped by the butcher shop, and let me run off on my own to throw a coin in the fountain. That was pretty normal back then, letting a child go somewhere alone. They knew about bad guys with bad ideas, but it just hadn’t happened often enough to warrant constant monitoring. Have you seen the kids with actual leashes? I mean, there’s being protective, and then there’s whatever that is. I guess I don’t really know their situation. Those kids could have developmental issues that make it impossible to teach them to stay close. Anyway, there I was at the fountain. I remember feeling like there were a lot of people going about their business, or enjoying the park, but when I think back to that day, I think I was completely alone. I must have been, right? Otherwise, someone would have helped me. I threw the coin in the water, closed my eyes, and wished to be a superhero. Thinking that not only would it work, but that it would work immediately, I turned around and began to run. I didn’t even get the chance to jump up and try to fly. I tripped on something pretty quickly, and slammed my face against the cement. I could feel the blood all over me, and the most excruciating pain I ever experienced—before then, and until today. I lay there like that for a moment before flipping over, and getting to my back, which provided just a little bit of relief. I looked up and watched the birds flying overhead, completely oblivious to the fact that a human was in mortal danger down here, and not even trying to teach me how to do what they do. I don’t know how long I was there before my grandfather ran over and scooped me up. “Don’t tell your mother,” he said to me. “We’ll get you cleaned up, and you’ll be okay.” I was indeed okay. But I was changed. I no longer hoped to be any kind of hero. Fact: heroes don’t fall on their faces. Even if they do, they always get up on their own.

That was decades ago, and now I kind of look at it as my origin story. That’s just another delusion, though, and I know that. I’m no hero, I’m just a regular person who saw people in trouble, and felt compelled to help. People do that, and that’s a lesson I learned over the years, though I wasn’t exactly conscious of it; I’m just realizing it in my final moments. Heroes don’t really exist, and they don’t need to. If you see a man get hit by a car while you’re walking to work, you stop and call for emergency services. Our species is ruthless, but we’re also compassionate and cooperative. We would not have survived this long without the instinct to help others. I didn’t think very hard when I saw the bricks fly out of the building they once formed like water from the tap. I didn’t know what it was, and still don’t; perhaps a missile of some kind. The war is supposed to be over, but some just can’t let go. It doesn’t matter why it started falling apart, just that there were innocent lives at stake, and I happened to be walking by. I ran in, and ran up the stairs. I started going through every room, clearing everyone out, and searching for anyone incapable of escaping on their own. I wasn’t the only one, I can tell you that. I saw a few others from the street who had the same idea, and I bet there were more. Fathers escorted sons through windows. Neighbors lifted debris off of neighbors. Everyone who could help was helping. Because that is what we do. When one of us hurts, we’re all worse off for it. No, I don’t die here under this rubble as a hero. I die as a human being capable of empathy, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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