Friday, November 26, 1999
don't have to look far to find heros: They're close by
By DAVID EPPS
Once in awhile we encounter situations that remind us that heroes are all around us. Most of the time, they don't look like heroes and, if you referred to them as such, they would be embarrassed. Most of the time the heroes among us are ordinary people rising to the occasion during an extraordinary event.
A few weeks ago, I was in Jacksonville, Fla., for a denominational convocation. Several of the people from my church were also in attendance and, late one night, about 11 p.m., following an eventful day, several of us loaded up in the van and headed out for a late dinner. As we neared an intersection, Bill Shelton of Peachtree City, who was occupying the passenger seat, shouted, Stop the car!
Startled, I jammed on the brakes as Bill leaped out of the vehicle and headed rapidly on foot toward the extremely heavily trafficked Arlington Expressway. Right on his heels followed Dawn De Leo of Newnan. Bill had seen a woman pushing a man in a wheelchair and attempting to cross the deadly highway, when the woman stumbled and the man was tumbled out into the flow of traffic.
Bill, a firefighter and paramedic in Douglas County, Ga., responded instantly as he had been trained to do. Dawn, who works for a home health agency, ran to the man and his companion as Bill ran into the oncoming traffic in a frantic attempt to divert the speeding automobiles away from the dimly lighted lane where the paralyzed man lay. Bill stood between the cars and the hapless man, hoping that they could see him before they ran him down. Brakes screeched, cars swerved, but at the last moment, it seemed, the cars crammed into the left lane without hitting any of the four people in the street.
By this time, I had turned on the van's emergency lights and had joined Bill in the street, as his wife Donna stood guard over our vehicle. Another person, a young man on a motorcycle, also hurried over to lend any assistance that might be needed. By now, all the cars were carefully avoiding the bundles of clothes in the roadway and Bill went back to attend to any injuries that man may have suffered.
Fortunately, with the exception of a bruise or two, the 40-something year old man was unharmed. As he profusely expressed his appreciation to Bill and Dawn, his companion poked him on the arm and told him to look behind him. As his eyes fell on me, he grinned broadly and said, Wow! At that point, I realized that I was still wearing my clerical collar and was easily recognizable as a clergy person. He continued, Now I know that the Lord was looking out for me tonight!
He certainly did, I thought. He sent Bill and Dawn to your rescue!
It only took a few moments to pick the man up and return him to his wheelchair and, very shortly, he and his companion safely crossed the busy highway and disappeared into the warm Florida night. The young man in the black motorcycle suit pulled down the visor on his helmet, waved and sped into the night as the rest of us returned to the van to head to the restaurant.
As I watched my friends interact over the next hour, I reflected on the events that had just transpired on the expressway.
Bill Shelton, a man in his 50s with a warm smile and an engaging personality, has made a living saving lives and training others to save lives. Now, here in Florida, far from home, and on vacation, he unhesitatingly threw himself into the dangerous traffic to save a homeless man (for such was his appearance) from being horribly killed as he lay helpless and paralyzed on the street. Dawn, a deeply devoted believer in her early 20s, demonstrated no less courage as she, too, plunged into the dark night to help this nameless couple.
A dozen or so other cars had stopped to allow their drivers to stare, but, with the exception of the unknown cyclist, no one else left the safety of their vehicles to render aid. No one else put themselves at risk for another human being in need.
And this is why I told Bill and Dawn as we returned to the hotel, You guys are my heroes. They brushed it off, of course, seeing nothing significant in their actions. But today, in Jacksonville, Florida, a man lives because Bill and Dawn acted instantly and decisively, even at the risk of their own safety. He probably thinks of them as heroes too.
[Father David Epps is rector of Christ the King Charismatic Episcopal Church, which meets each Sunday at 10 a.m. in the Carmichael-Hemperley building on Ga. Highway 74 in Peachtree City, Ga. He may be contacted online at FatherDavidEpps@aol.com]