Doing What It Takes, In a Moment, In a Life
Today, I move away from combat veterans, but only in a literal sense. For in a more figurative sense, if we speak of those who are willing to serve through thick and thin, but even more who are willing to react to the unexpected horror of the world in ways that, without thought, move toward others rather than away from them: if we speak thus, then we’re not heading into new territory whatsoever.
Today I write in memory of a fallen hero, not in a far-off desert or mountain range, but in a suburban schoolyard
Today’s article is from The Washington Post, and it is entitled, “Talking About a Legend”: Indiana School Principal Dies Saving Children in Path of Bus.”
For twenty-two years, Susan Jordan was principal of Amy Beverland Elementary School, located on the far northeast side of Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. In those years she held together a faculty and a student body of diverse ethnicity and class, creating a community of “Amy Beverland Stars” that not only sheltered and empowered children through their pre-teen years, but well into their adulthoods and their own growth into parenthood and caretaking.
On Tuesday, January 26, 2016, mid-afternoon, at the end of another school day of announcements, lunch lines, and recesses, as students ages six through twelve were loading into buses or waiting for parents outside the building, Mrs. Jordan was where she always was, stewarding the hyper and the worn-out, the gabby and the sullen, all toward home, with a smile, a hug, a pat on the back, even an occasional high-five.
Suddenly a bus shifted into gear and lunged over the curb, toward a group of children. Mrs. Jordan lunged in response. In seconds she managed to push away all but two of the children out of the bus’s path. Those two children, ages 10, were seriously injured when struck, but are alive and will return one day to school.
For Mrs. Jordan, Tuesday became her last day of class.
The school district’s superintendent later that day called her “a legend.”
For my two younger children, now young adults, from the first day they stepped off a bus into the first grade until the last day they stepped onto one at the end of fifth grade, she was just “Mrs. J.”
From August 2001 until May 2008, I saw Susan Jordan at countless assemblies, concerts, fundraisers—and daily school pick-ups. A good ten years my senior, she had energy and enthusiasm that put me to shame. From the very beginning she knew my daughter and son by name. She even remembered regularly to ask about my eldest daughter, after she had, in 1999, steered us to send our first-born to another elementary school across the township because she knew “that would be the perfect place for her.”
We use the word “hero” so freely these days. Combat veterans are loathe to accept it. I have no doubt Mrs. Jordan would have felt similarly.
Yet in so many ways the heroic is heroic precisely because, when truly lived, it is so mundane. Hour by hour, day by day the future hero makes decisions as to how and where she will focus her attention, her energies. She scouts out what she values, whom she values, adjusting her gaze onto familiar patterns, attuning her ear to familiar sounds.
Then in that horrible moment, it happens. Connection happens. Love happens. No thought, just motion, motion toward a future for others, whether or not it ends the future for oneself.
I salute you, Mrs. Jordan. If I may be so bold, on behalf of all the combat veterans whom I have served and whom I will serve until my own time comes, I salute you again.
On September 11, 2001, you stood at the door of your school and reunited my worried wife with my confused, seven-year-old daughter. In the years since, you oversaw the education of hundreds of children who had to learn about writing and multiplication in a world that no longer was so easily ignorable by comfortable, suburban Americans. You guided children through the deaths of classmates, through the dissolution of their families, through their own medical illnesses. You created an atmosphere of warmth and rigor that supported my children’s teachers to become the finest that they were.
You were heroic, in the most commonplace of moments, in the most extraordinary.
From all of us who knew you, from all those who serve their fellow citizens in places of greatest danger precisely because of heroes like you, thank you.
From my family, from me, thank you.
Rest in peace.
Until tomorrow, be well,