To properly honor the dead, we must remember them — and Lt. Brian Ahearn, a New York City firefighter, is someone whom I honor every year on September 11.
Every year on September 11, for the past 12 years, I’ve reprinted the memorial posts I wrote for Lt. Brian Ahearn, a New York firefighter; Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas, a United flight 93 passenger (and friend); and Ric Rescorla, a man who had confronted evil, recognized it, and planned for it. This year will be no different.
Lt. Brian G. Ahearn
My son, when he was little, was obsessed with superheroes. One of his favorites was Superman. After all, when you’re a little boy, battling your way through the world, what could be more exciting than the possibility of being “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound”?
For months, I was bombarded daily with questions about Superman’s ability to withstand extreme temperatures, his flying speeds, his ballistic capabilities and, most importantly, his bravery. It was with this last that my son and I ran into a conceptual problem.
My son thought Superman was brave because he unflinchingly waded into situations involving guns, and flames, and bad guys. I tried to explain to him that the fictional Superman, while good, is not brave. He’s good because he’s committed to fighting evil; he’s not brave, however, because, being super, he takes no risks (and no, we won’t go into the small risk that some evil genius bad guy managed to get hold of kryptonite).
Superman’s indestructibility means that his heart never speeds up, his gut never clenches, and he never pauses for even a moment to question whether the potential benefit from confronting evil or danger is worth the risk. In other words, if facing a gun is as easy as sniffing a rose, there is no bravery involved.
The truly brave person is the one who knows the real risks in a situation but still moves forward to save people, to fight a good battle, or to remedy an intolerable situation. The attacks against America on September 11, 2001, revealed the true superheroes among us — those New York firefighters who pushed themselves past those second thoughts, those all-too-human hesitations, and sacrificed themselves in the hopes of saving others. Lt. Brian G. Ahearn was one of those superheroes.