Thursday, January 13, 2011

Tucson's Reluctant Hero

Barack Obama got all the media attention at the Tucson memorial service last night, but the real, and reluctant, star of the night was Daniel Hernandez Jr, lauded as a hero in the days since the attack on Gabrielle Giffords that killed six and wounded several more. There was a back-and-forth on Hernandez' hero status throughout the night. It was first conferred, gratefully declined, and then foist upon him once more by no less than President Obama.

I felt a little bad for him.

When he went to work last Saturday, Hernandez was just an intern. Five days before, he was barely that. He had already done great things, yes--getting the nursing assistant certification that would later help save Giffords' life and being a member of Tucson’s city commission on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues at age 20 (20!), are great indeed--but these were part of the normal order of life, the beginnings of a career in public service. Administering life-saving care for your boss in the midst of the attack that brought her down is a complete derailment of all such normality.

The Giffords attack is traumatic enough on its own. For Hernandez, being all over the news for doing what to him was the only thing that made sense at the time (and this is what makes him indeed a hero) and then being applauded by 13,000 people, including the most powerful person in the world, is a lot to take in. An explosive situation just propelled Hernandez into the public stratosphere, and it was obvious by his humility and stoicism that he's still trying to get his bearings.

No doubt great things lie ahead for Daniel Hernandez. But the man just survived a massacre and has been violently jolted out of the subtle comforts of routine. We'll hear of him again, when he's good and ready.

1 comment:

  1. Some years ago (maybe even a decade ago) the NYTimes Magazine did a piece on instant heroes, i.e., private citizens who were thrust into the spotlight. Things rarely ended well.

    I do hope you're right, and that Mr Hernandez can be little bit forgotten.