by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

Who wouldn’t be willing to give up their bus seat to a pregnant woman, the elderly or handicapped? Or who wouldn’t consider taking advantage of an airline offer of a free ticket to give up their seat on an oversold flight?

A few days ago, we heard the story of the helicopter copilot who unflinchingly gave up his seat to an injured pilot he was rescuing. His Apache helicopter had only two seats, one for himself and one for the pilot. After belting one injured pilot into his seat, he strapped the second injured pilot to the gun mount outside the helicopter on one side and then strapped himself to the other side of the helicopter.

Unflinching — showing a fearless determination in the face of danger or difficulty. One wonders whether this courageous soldier even thought twice about putting his own safety second to a comrade. I think not.

Joining the U.S. military today is totally voluntary. Americans freely choose to enlist for service, knowing the potential risks and sacrifices. So perhaps it should be no surprise that an individual who has made such a choice would also make the voluntary decision to give up his seat, even if it means putting himself in harm’s way.

This warrior’s unblinking and unshrinking willingness to give, in this instance, his seat, is one of the purest examples of volunteerism. His actions could be described by Paul’s words “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). God was surely smiling on this helicopter copilot’s selfless action.

Soldiers’ devotion of care to their comrades reminds me of how Jesus defined what it meant to be a neighbor with the famous parable frequently titled “The Good Samaritan.” A man traveled from Jerusalem to Jericho. Apparently, during his journey he was attacked by thieves who robbed and wounded him, leaving him half-dead on the side of the road. Other travelers saw this poor man on the side of the road and didn’t stop to help him. Then, along came a Samaritan who didn’t hesitate to stop and render aid. The Samaritan cared for his wounded neighbor in the same way soldiers care for not only their comrades but also anyone in need of their assistance. Both are role models for us all.

The story of the Samaritan takes on even greater significance when one understands that the wounded man whom the Samaritan stopped to help was socially and politically his enemy. I guess Jesus was trying to teach us that humanity’s bonds in brotherhood transcend social, racial, sexual, political and religious segmentations that we often adopt in our lives. Compassion is a universal moral code for behavior at all times.

Maybe we will not have the same opportunities as soldiers, firefighters or police officers, who willingly and often heroically give assistance to others. But heroism is about character that includes qualities we would all do well to embody and practice — courage, strength, perseverance, compassion, faith, hope, selflessness, tenderness, patience, willingness, unconditional love.

Heroism is about how we live our lives. Heroes don’t look for glory or praise, nor do they seek recognition for their actions. They expect nothing in return and ask for nothing in return. Heroes live lives of deep commitment, believing in the greater good for all.

Every day we have opportunities to be someone’s hero — to offer assistance, to listen, to help, to care. Perhaps we can all ask ourselves: “Am I willing to give up my seat?”