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May 21, 2009
In The Village
Honoring the young 'heroes'
by Orson Scott Card

You never know when a crisis will strike. Like the one that happened to friends of ours last Friday.

The father and the four youngest of his seven children were in the family van, on the way to pick up their wife and mother at the airport. It had been raining on and off all day, but suddenly there was a cloudburst with rain coming down faster than it could drain off the road.

The father was obeying the speed limit -- he always does, to the occasional annoyance of passengers in a hurry. But there is no speed that's safe when your tires lose traction on an overpass and you start to spin.

The first guard rail did its job -- they rebounded from it. By the time they reached the second guard rail, they were off the overpass, so when they went over it and rolled, it was down a rather gentle grade instead of onto a highway thirty feet below.

They rolled over once, then rolled again and came to a stop with the van upside down. All the windows had burst, spraying glass shards everywhere, but the roof held. In fact, the accident happened so gently that the air bags didn't even deploy.

The parents had recently cracked down on a certain laxness in seat belt use, and as they pulled out of the driveway the father had reminded them all to buckle up.

Because the children obeyed, they were all now dangling upside down in the van. But there were no serious injuries, as there certainly would have been if a couple of children had been tumbled around in the van like dice in a cup.

The oldest child in the car was the twelve-year-old son, Aaron. No sooner had the car come to a stop than Aaron said to his three younger sisters, in a calming voice, "It's all right now, everybody's safe."

The father unfastened his own seat belt and immediately fell to the roof, bruising his shoulder quite painfully. But he got up at once and started unfastening the rather complicated straps of the four-year-old's car seat.

Meanwhile, Aaron got himself out of his shotgun-seat belt without injury and, without a word of instruction from his father, proceeded to get the other two girls, ages ten and eight, out of their seatbelts and safely onto the roof. Then he led them out of the van through the front passenger window.

By the time the father had the youngest out of her carseat and through the same window, the younger children were all safely out of the car and gathered around Aaron in the grass, in the rain, waiting for instructions.

All of this happened before the first of the passing motorists stopped to render assistance.

The family had never rehearsed or even talked about "what to do in the event of an automobile accident that leaves us upside down in the van." But Aaron had immediately taken responsibility for calming his younger sisters and then helping them, one at a time, get down from their precarious perch. He figured out what was needed, and he did it.

It can be a blessing, to have a crisis like this that wakes you up to how precious life is, how easily you could lose any or all of those dearest to you. What a joy for those who are blessed to learn that lesson, to have that reminder, without actually losing any of them.

Let me tell you another story. This one happened to my own family, more than a decade ago, during a vacation.

The rented house had a garden on a slope, so that there were many steps of uneven height. Our youngest daughter was barely two, and we had made a big deal about the fact that it was not safe for her to go down into the garden by herself.

Our son Charlie Ben was then twelve years old. His cerebral palsy was severe enough that he could not sit without support, could not stand or walk, could not speak.

One afternoon, I was working in a room that opened onto the garden. My wife was sitting out in the yard with Charlie Ben in his wheelchair and the two-year-old beside her in a chair. The phone rang; the caller had a question for me; my wife stepped over to get my answer.

No sooner had she started talking than Charlie Ben started yelling. He spoke no words, but there was no mistaking the urgency in his voice.

My wife turned and saw that in the three seconds she had been walking toward the office, the toddler had gotten down from the chair and was teetering on the brink of the most dangerous set of steps in the garden.

Charlie Ben could not stop her, but he knew that he was the only one who could see her danger, and he yelled for help. Like Aaron, he took responsibility and did everything in his power to protect his little sister.

These are not spectacular hero-stories of the kind that end up in Reader's Digest.

They are the kind of story that parents treasure in their hearts, because they reveal something good and fine about their children.

Maybe you wouldn't call these actions "heroic" -- Aaron's and Charlie Ben's own lives were never at risk.

Both boys saw an urgent need. They understood just what they could do, and they did it.

Millions of people act just that way, every single day. We call them "responsible adults" or "good citizens" or just ... grownups.

The only surprise is when you see that kind of behavior in a twelve-year-old. What, you can't keep your room clean, but you're ready for serious responsibility when a crisis comes?

There are precedents, of course. Samuel. Mormon. Joseph Smith.

We don't create our children's deep character -- we only help them discover it and overcome whatever weaknesses they might have. But that doesn't mean we can't rejoice at those moments when a child's soul is opened up to us and we see the light of Christ: the will to act for the good of others, without thought of self.

It gives us a taste of what our own Father feels, when he looks at us and says, "Well done."

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