Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Natural-born heroes

This is one of my favorite photographs. I think I look pretty lively for someone who had finished a year-and-a-half-long course of cancer treatment just a few months earlier. And I’ll always be fascinated by the guy I’m with—Wes Autrey—a.k.a the Subway Hero. 

In 2007, Autrey was waiting for a train with his two daughters when he saw a young man fall into a seizure and stumble off the platform onto the tracks. In an instant, Autrey made a multitude of dazzling mental and moral calculations: that the train was coming too fast to stop short of the spasming body, that Autrey didn’t have time to jump down and pull the man to safety, that the space between the trackbed and the undercarriage of the train would accommodate two men lying one on top of the other, that he wanted his two little girls to see him doing the right thing. And he jumped, flattened the guy and held him down as the train passed over them—while his girls watched.

I try hard to be a good person and do the right thing, and I generally make defensible ethical choices, but it would have taken me days—and a measuring tape and a calculator and a lot of Googling of math texts, plus perhaps more courage than I could muster—to make the decision Autrey made in a split second. 

Every time I think of Autrey and try to figure out the wizardry of his act, I end up gibbering. Despite all my years of yoga, I cannot grok how he had the sheer presence of mind to act so fast and flawlessly.

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