Is there such a thing as ‘untimely death’? I don’t know. To my mind, if you know the person, it’s always untimely, whatever the age. However, whenever I read about the death of someone younger than me, I am always jolted. and when that person dies in an attempt to save another, I’m in awe.
Ashih Tekleab Hailie, the 32-year-old who died after rescuing his colleague from drowning, has made me think a lot about the meaning of being a hero. Would this young Eritrean man think of himself a hero? I doubt it. if he had survived I’m sure he would have said that he simply did what he had to do.
The question is, did Hailie stop and think about what he was doing before he attempted to save a friend? I’ve mulled this over and over again and I think yes. Because we always do stop and consider our actions, even if for a fraction of a milli-second.
Therefore, put simply, being a hero is tantamount to one thing: our capacity to stamp out our fears and go ahead with what we deem is the right thing to do.
If you think about it, our fears usually stem out of pondering way too much about the consequences of our actions. It is fear of our own survival – in literal or figurative terms – that makes us stop in our tracks.
A hero would recognise the need to act fast and prompt as opposed to standing by and watching events unfold while dilly-dallying on a decision.
And that’s a very difficult thing to do. I’ve lost count of the many times I have not been able to do it, even, at times, in small decisions of day-to-day matter.
Many a time I have found myself in situations which require urgent action and I’d be saying: “Argh, I can’t possibly decide. I need more time, more time.” but as we all know dithering, or not doing anything, does not always give positive outcomes.
I am possibly the result of modern culture. as a society we are becoming more and more fearful, more paranoiac, less impulsive, more calculative.
We have this innate fear that everybody is out to get us. we are all growing into mini-Machiavellis, strategically plotting our every single move – as if life is a chess board.
But it isn’t, is it? we never really know when the next high wave is going to crash us against a rock.
It takes a wise soul to prioritise what is right, and to act on it immediately and fearlessly, and that is why Haile is a hero.
This is of no consolation to his 24-year-old wife, Tina. oh, so, so young.
To have loved and lost at such a young age, just before an imminent bright future in the US, is nothing but a cruel twist of fate.
There are no words of comfort, except this, perhaps: “Tears dry on their own”, to quote Amy Winehouse.
Which brings me to the other untimely death last week. this iconic British soul singer was but a mere 27 years old. Winehouse’s personal life has been like a slow-motion car crash: a drug overdose, rehab, more drugs, self-harm, binge drinking, more rehab, more drinking. yet, I was still shocked by her death. I loved Winehouse – her out-of-this-world voice, her beehive hair, her Egyptian-style eyeliner, her tattoos, her irreverence to social rules.
She was sexy in a couldn’t-care-less kind of way – so refreshing from all the plasticky, scheming, pouting celebrities that litter the magazine racks. but most of all she had raw talent, and her death is a frustrating waste.
All we are left with now is her music, and I’m now thinking: was Winehouse a hero? To live with a tormented soul – one dark night after another – is something that needs a fair amount of bravery: there are times in our lives when we can’t make it on our own and unless a hero saves us from the darkened tunnel, we’re doomed.
Let’s end on a light note: sometimes heroes come in all sorts of guises. Emmanuel Cini, the Cospicua man who had been on a hunger strike because of Arriva and Austin Gatt (am not sure which came first), was coerced out of his protest, 10 days into his strike. The hero in this case was none other than the Prime Minister himself.
In what was otherwise a very morose week, it was amusing to see that Mr Cini called off his hunger protest after the Prime Minister – calling at his home – convinced him to eat, and peeled two kiwis for him, we were told. You see, when we least expect it, there’s a hero in all of us.