Feet First

Heroes



"Why ya'll going up there?"


- Evacuee asking NYC firefighter in Tower One, Sept. 11



With more than a little anticipation, I tuned to Fox on Sunday between "Malcolm in the Middle" and "The X-Files" to watch the final trailer for "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones" (Lord, that's a long title). I expected another tantalizing glance at the most anticipated film since, well, "The Phantom Menace."

What I didn't expect is how much that trailer and CBS' documentary "9/11" are related. Please, before for you swap a copy of this paper for an issue of Generation in disgust (usually it's the other way around), bear with me.

As a "Star Wars" fan since I was old enough to say, "Stop kissing your sister," I've craved these films like Bill Clinton craves stupid, chunky interns. I was excited to see new footage from the second-to-last "Star Wars" film ever. I yelped/laughed when Anakin Skywalker jumped/rolled out of his speeder hovering over Coruscant as though he was going back home to pick up the smokes he forgot.

Perhaps someone old enough to be a father should be embarrassed about getting excited over what's essentially a children's film. Yet I'm not. When Anakin said in an earlier trailer, his voice permeated with anger, "Someday, I will be the most powerful Jedi ever," shivers ran up fans' spines.

"Star Wars" makes me excited. The story of one man's rise, fall and ultimate redemption set amongst the whiz-bang gizmos of a future-like galaxy in the distant past is epic and enthralling. Plus, James Earl Jones says things like, "He's as clumsy as he is stupid." Priceless.

But "Star Wars" and Sept. 11?

Immediately following the trailer, "9/11" aired. Two brothers were in the process of documenting a rookie firefighter at a station near the World Trade Center. Dispatched on a routine gas leak call, the camera focuses on their mundane task as the sound of an airplane piloted by ignorant savages zooms overhead into Tower One.

The cameraman follows the firefighters into Tower One's lobby and stays there capturing the last known moments of many men. As the firefighters mill around the lobby, waiting to plunge head first into the unknown, a sound is constantly repeated. It sounds like a trash bag full of glass shards repeatedly swung into a wall.

It's the sound of hopelessness. It's the sound of human beings slapping into the pavement after plunging seventy-plus stories through the air.

Despite that gruesome exception, the film's content is rather mild. What disturbs is the notion that many men you see will soon cease to exist.

But what equally impressed me was something else. These men climbed up the towers (because jet fuel raced through the elevator shafts) with the grim determination of soldiers headed off to war. No hesitation on their faces. Not on the faces of heroes.

Again, "Star Wars" and Sept. 11?

"Star Wars" is one of many special things for me. Not to be too sappy, but it makes me grin like an idiot. For you, it could be that episode of "The Simpsons" where Homer goes into space. "Now we'll never know if ants can sort tiny screws in space," Buzz Aldrin tells Homer on the space shuttle after he crashed through the ant farm.

It can also be holding your girlfriend's hand while warmed by the sun.

Or maybe listening to your little nephew or baby brother laugh as he toddles awkwardly around the room.

These seemingly trivial moments - without which life is dull, drab and boring - are protected by heroes such as those "brave men, living and dead," to steal a line from Lincoln. They risk their little moments and unique joys to ensure ours continue.

When honoring these heroes who have not "died in vain" - again, Lincoln - it must not be forgotten they're one half of an indispensable whole.

Type A heroes (the order does not indicate value, merely order) are the soldiers, police officers, firefighters, detectives, agents and investigators. They brave the concealing, smothering darkness and scatter it, denying those who harm the innocent a refuge to dream their twisted schemes. They pursue criminals and terrorists to the ends of the earth, capturing when possible, killing when necessary.

These heroes save lives.

But survival alone is insufficient. Life must be made worth living by nourishing society's spirit. "Spirit" not in a religious sense of something that survives after the body's passing. Rather, a society's spirit inspires citizens to be better than they are at the moment. Type B heroes are the nurses, teachers, clergy and volunteers. They heal broken bodies and shattered spirits. They give sustenance to the traveler when he falls to one knee, ensuring the other shall not brush the ground. They give dignity to the daily struggle we face to improve our lives and the lives of others.

These heroes save souls.

One cannot exist without the other. Life is meaningless without a soul. Souls cannot exist without life. Again, not in a religious sense, but a civic one.

We should be grateful that such men and women dedicate their lives to saving ours, even the worthless among us. That is the true legacy of Sept. 11 - the value of sacrifice in a country so large and diverse as America.

It's a little more than two months until "Attack of the Clones." Thanks to a higher power for the people who give me the chance to see it.

If they could do something about Jar Jar, they'd be gods instead of mere heroes.