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Sunday, January 09, 2005

Who's the hero?

Yesterday's newspapers had a section dedicated to the heroes of the tsunami disaster. There were about 10 pages of stories, though half of each page had advertisements, so there were really only five pages.

And of the five pages of stories, I read and remembered only two stories.

The first was about a Danish tourist in Thailand who braved the waves to rescue not one, not two, but 10 people, including children, before he was lost at sea. And each time he returned with a survivor, he didn't wait to be thanked, he just went back out to sea.

The other story is about a mongrel that was given to a Sri Lankan family after a relative passed away some time back. When the waves came crashing in, the mother had time only to rescue her two youngest children, thinking the oldest one would have the sense to follow her up the hill. Instead, the child hid in a room until the mongrel dragged the kid out by the collar and nudged him up the hill.

So why do I only remember these two stories out of the 20 or so? Because these two, or at least the first one, feature real heroes. (There's a third one about a New Zealander who rescued his Thai wife before being carried away. I didn't read it because I was pressed for time.) Most of the other stories were about heroes who helped/are helping in the rescue and relief efforts. Maybe I'm wrong, but I wouldn't regard these people as real heroes, more like people performing worthwhile, charitable acts.

In college, I attended a class on classic Greek literature. Among the stories I read (including -- horrors -- "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey") was a story about a Greek king who was extremely wealthy and egotistical. And to boost his ego, he asked a local prophet on three occasions who was the happiest, luckiest and richest man on the earth. But each time, the prophet would say that it was some other poor sod who was not only unlikely to be seen as happy or lucky or rich, but was also dead.

Of course, the king was infuriated at each answer and finally demanded to know why the prophet gave those replies. The answer he got is that no one can really know who is happy, lucky, rich or any other adjective until after that person's life has ended.

So back to the tsunami disaster. Who's the hero -- the Dane who rescued 10 people, or the many others who are doing relief work now?

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