I can assure you that topics, such as Africa, Indian Ocean, and pirates, are exotic and rarely discussed, in these parts—and hardly, if ever, associated with land-locked Vermont—until now, I suppose. The small village of Underhill, which is home to Captain Phillips and his family, is barely a speck on a map without so much as a single, traffic light; yet it now rightfully claims having a genuine American hero.
I don’t have to recount for you how Phillips risked his own life, in order to save those of his 19 crew members. Everyone knows the story of how four pirates terrorized the humanitarian-aid-bearing cargo ship, forcing its captain aboard a tiny lifeboat, at gunpoint. The world—at least from our corner—seemed to hold its breath, awaiting the situation’s outcome. I, along with countless others, added my prayers to the multitude God received on the captain’s behalf. However, while I profess to be a woman of faith, I also consider myself to be a realist. As much as I had hoped the captain’s life would be spared, our troubled world’s hot spots all-too-often reveal life’s evil and vulgar underbelly, as well as the negative consequences of those influences. The situation was grim by even the most-optimistic standards.
The fact that Phillips’s ordeal happened to fall during Holy Week—the most sacred days of the year, for faithful Christians—arguably could be seen as more than mere coincidence; after all, does it not mark the time when Jesus offered himself up, in order that others might be saved? Yet we all know the fate of Jesus.
Okay, so they killed Jesus, but His story doesn’t end there—far from it. He returned in all His glory, just as Captain Phillips did this past Friday afternoon, to his home of Underhill. Like I said, it may have been only coincidence, but I think, either way, God must be pretty impressed by the captain’s exemplary behavior. (I know everyone around, here, sure is; so much so, Vermont is just about busting with pride, right about, now.)
Of course, the truly amazing thing about how the captain behaved is that he acted exactly how we’re all meant to act—all of the time.
Globally-speaking, imagine if everyone did just that; how wonderful would this world be? Seriously, if everyone could be as selfless as Captain Phillips—as selfless as Jesus and Mother Theresa and Gandhi—there wouldn’t be any pirates or terrorists or criminals or dictators or greedy bank CEOs or corrupt politicians or drug lords...not to mention all those types of people’s victims. Sure, there’ll be cynics who say that we won’t succeed at fixing the planet’s problems—that the sheer magnitude of them is just too great to overcome—and perhaps that’s true; but I say, why not at least try?
Why not try to fix the ills of this troubled world, one “Captain Phillips” at a time? After all, was not our newly-anointed hero just an ordinary American, only a few short weeks ago—working hard at making a living to support his family? Millions of us do just that as well, day in, day out. Yet, somehow, through unseen means, this unassuming Vermonter found it within himself to reveal his hidden, extraordinary noble and courageous nature at the precise moment when his crew needed him to do so, most. You could say that’s what distinguishes heroes from the masses, in the first place. They are deemed rare—arguably even pre-destined—individuals, willing to “walk the walk” at life’s most-critical junctures.
And I guess that’s my point. Not to diminish Captain Phillips’s feat, but how do the rest of us, ordinary Americans, know that we, too, don’t possess his exact, same character traits? Why shouldn’t we assume there’s a hero/heroine dwelling inside each of us, just waiting for the right opportunity to break forth? Maybe our “walk” won’t involve staving off Somali pirates on the high seas. Chances are we won’t experience the fanfare and media frenzy like the Phillips’ family, but that doesn’t mean our deeds can’t be noble or that they won’t require of us heroic efforts. “Walking the walk” for the rest of us might mean engaging in the not-so-exotic, like delivering meals to housebound seniors or volunteering at a local soup-kitchen on a regular basis. Maybe you take time each week to coach your child’s rec-league team or volunteer in a school or as a scout-troop leader. Some of us will no doubt be America’s unsung heroes, working as nurses, street-cleaners, teachers, bus drivers, and daycare providers, despite the modest paychecks.
So, do me—and yourself—a favor; the next time you go food-shopping, thank the single-mother cashier and the high-school student, who bags your groceries. Take the time to notice all the unsung heroes you come across, in the midst of your daily routine. They’re the ones who keep this country going strong. Maybe you won’t feel as proud as we, Vermonters, do right now, but I bet you’ll feel pretty proud to be an American.