James Shaw, a real hero, seeing his opportunity, was able to rise above fear and doubt. Unlike most people, he acted, saving innumerable lives.
One of my favorite books ever is Plunkitt of Tammany Hall, an interview an enterprising newspaper man had in 1905 with George Washington Plunkitt, a practitioner of “honest graft” during the heyday of New York’s Tammany Hall. Plunkitt is unabashed about the impressive profits he made from the party machinery. At various times throughout the book, when Plunkitt pocketed his ill-gotten gains, he disavowed wrongdoing. Instead, as he liked to say, “I seen my opportunities and I took ’em.”
For me, that phrase, and others like it, have always had the aura of graft hanging about them. From this day forward, though, I will never hear that phrase without thinking of incredible courage in the face of near-certain death. I’m speaking, of course, of James Shaw, Jr., who snatched the gun from the hand of an insane man who got too many passes from law enforcement and who managed to slaughter four at a Tennessee Waffle House. Shaw’s bravery saved uncounted lives.
With the humility of a true hero, Shaw downplayed what he did:
Shaw Jr. rushed the gunman, grabbed the gun’s barrel, pulled it away and threw it over the Waffle House counter. He suffered a gunshot wound and burns from grabbing the gun’s barrel.
Shaw Jr. said he doesn’t feel like a hero.
He was only trying to stay alive.
“It feels selfish,” Shaw Jr. “I was just trying to get myself out. I saw the opportunity and pretty much took it.” (Emphasis added.)
We all know that others, seeing the same opportunity, would nevertheless have been paralyzed with doubt or fear. Shaw wasn’t paralyzed; he acted. No matter his motives, his ability to see that opportunity and to take it make him a true, blue hero. I wish for him a very happy life. He’s earned it.