People everywhere are talking about Carlos Arredondo, the “man in the cowboy hat,” who ran toward the carnage immediately after the bombing at the Boston Marathon, and administered what was undoubtedly life-saving aid to the critically injured Jeff Bauman.
They’re calling him a hero. For good reason. What Arredondo did that day was absolutely heroic and should be acknowledged. But I think we should think about Mr. Arredondo’s heroic actions on that one particular day in the broader contexts of his life, the choices he has made, how he has cultivated compassionate courage, and how it is possible for each of us to do the same.
From what I’ve read about Carlos Arredondo, he has experienced the unimaginable pain of losing two sons. The first, Alex, was killed in Iraq in 2004. Brian Arredondo committed suicide in 2012. It is reported that just after he learned of Alex’s death, the distraught father took a can of gasoline, a propane tank, and a lighter into the van which marines had driven to Mr. Arredondo’s home to deliver the heartbreaking news, and set it on fire. He later said that it was an accident, not a suicide attempt. Whatever it was, he sustained burns over much of his body.
These are the only personal events from Arredondo’s pre-Boston Marathon life that I have read about. But in the wake of this incredible pain and suffering, he apparently became a peace activist, working with organizations like Veterans for Peace, doing things like assisting hundreds of homeless veterans to gain access to services and clothing. Rather than caving in under the weight of understandable despair, Carlos Arredondo chose to extend himself to help others.
I can’t speak for Mr. Arredondo, but I have to think this was not a one-time decision. I imagine he makes this decision over and over again, each time he feels the aching pain of the loss of his sons. I imagine that this has never been easy, but it’s likely that once he began to move in the direction of affirming life in this way, he got some traction and momentum going. I imagine that through seeing his efforts benefiting others, he has come to believe in the value of his own life in a way that he didn’t before.
I am inspired by this kind of heroism.
The kind where an ordinary human being, like you or me, finds meaning and purpose in a life that sometimes includes pain and suffering so big it seems impossible to bear.
Many will think of Carlos Arredondo as a hero in a way that they could never be. Just as they will think of those who planted the bombs as villains or monsters in a way that they could never be. But I know that I could be either a hero or a villain. I know that I am capable of great kindness and great cruelty. I know that it is my choice, moment to moment, whether I will cave in and allow myself to be consumed by pain/sadness/anger/rage, etc., or rise up and find a reason to believe I am worthy of life and that I have something valuable to give to others. I know that no one can give this to me, nor can anyone take it from me.
I pray that in these dark and frightening days, more of us will remember that we have a choice in how we respond to our pain and the pain all around us, and that we will choose, more often than not, sanity, decency and compassion. It is the collective effect of our moment-to-moment responses to the events in our lives that determines the kind of society we create for ourselves and for future generations.
Society isn’t “out there.” It is in each of our hearts.
Lorre Fleming is a 52-year-old gypsy, currently residing in my 43rd residence, in Danville Virginia. I am a practicing Shambhala Buddhist.
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