America’s beloved heroes Captain Richard Phillips from pirate fame and Captain Chesley Sullenberger or “Sully” as we came to know him, just recently hit the lottery with a couple of book deals. On the surface, my first reaction is, “Good for them!” These are two men whose valor reminds us of the good part of America. If anyone one deserves a nice paycheck, it’s these two heroes.
Below the surface, I can’t help but feel sad that our heroes cash in and turn heroism into some financial windfall. It almost weakens the stature of their selfless actions. I want to believe that my heroes are just people who do things out of bravery with gravitas. The thought of them driving to their local banks with a smile on their face and depositing huge sums of money in their bank accounts kinda shaves a little off the top of the heroism for me. Now I’m not a hypocrite or some holy roller. If I were in their shoes, I’d take the money.
However, I want to believe my heroes are better than most of us. I know they are just regular people who could never turn down the financial security for them and their families. Still, it must be said that by accepting the money and prolonging the fame, it does fall short of our greatest aspirations. It leaves a “tiny” stain on the memory of these two men and their actions. Clearly, heroes have integrity to even perform their acts but afterward, we in America seem to poison it with our Hero Fatigue Syndrome by building them up and then tearing them down. We muddy these brave acts with voyeurism and cash. We forget that the real true heroes are the ones where we never even know their names. They walk away anonymously and just pay it forward.
When I read the article at CNBC by Cindy Perman about the book deals, I was so happy for these guys but felt inside something so familiar. I felt that presence of greed and vanity. I am reminded of my CCD classes in Catholic Sunday School where they tried to shape our morals with teachings like, “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” or ”But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.”
I am very proud of these two men. Many souls walk the Earth today because of them. I stand among a grateful nation and tip my hat to both of them. At the same time, my dear Captains, be forewarned. The acceptance of the money or movies and book deals, can at the end of the day, leave you oceans away from where you once stood. I felt the presence of angels watching over all those people as they stood on the wings of that plane floating in the Hudson River. However, it will not be angels waiting for you at the ATM machine.