Peril and tragedy mark heroes living among us

Some­where in the inferno that leapt over the City of Hills, in the air made thick with pun­gent smoke and the sounds of despair, came another les­son to a cyn­i­cal world.

There are still heroes in Amer­ica, and every day they are pre­pared to die so that the rest of us can live a lit­tle more com­fort­ably in the secure knowl­edge that we live in a safer world.

In Worces­ter, they came last week in the form of six fire­fight­ers who ran into a maze of smoke and flame, first to save any home­less peo­ple who might be trapped inside, and later to save each other. A wall of fire stopped them, but their sac­ri­fice served as another les­son, per­haps most impor­tantly to our young.

Not all heroes are cel­lu­loid heroes. Unlike the tough guys who save the world in movies or shoot to kill in video games, they come in flesh and blood.

And some­times they die.

The city of Worces­ter is not the only place they die. All across West­ern Mass­a­chu­setts, the state and the nation, men and women sworn to pro­tect us stare down the bar­rels of criminal’s guns, race through rag­ing fires and swim through rapid rivers to res­cue fel­low human beings.

Because of them, some­where today a mother hears her baby’s cry, a father plays a game of catch with a child, or a grand­mother blows a kiss. In the Worces­ter area today, empty places can be found at six tables in homes where griev­ing chil­dren clutch their mothers.

And a city which wel­comed thou­sands of fire­fight­ers yes­ter­day to mourn their dead is left to silently con­tem­plate its loss. Life will go on, as it always does. Hol­i­day traf­fic will snarl road­ways and strain tem­pers. Snow will fall and wrap New Eng­land in a famil­iar blan­ket of white.

Christ­mas will come and gift wrap­pings will be torn open. A new mil­len­nium will dawn to the muted strains of “Auld Lang Syne.” We will go on liv­ing and breath­ing, laugh­ing and weep­ing. We will com­plain about our jobs and our in-laws and won­der why there is never enough time.

And if we’re lucky we’ll remem­ber how blessed we are to live in a world where a pre­cious few are still will­ing to give so much. Where heroes are still made of flesh and blood with hearts that are made of gold.

This edi­to­r­ial first appeared on Dec. 10, 1999
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