I’ve been thinking lately about Arnaud Beltrame.
At least, I’ve been thinking about him since I got a note from a reader who said in part, “These days you and every other journalist are fixated on Trump or Ducey or the rest of the political chaos. Ugh. I like it when you mix it up and throw in something unexpected and – dare I hope — uplifting. Got anything like that up your sleeve?”
A name you heard but…
It is too soon to have forgotten his name, assuming his name even registered. I had to go back and look it up.
You probably heard about Beltrame on the news, or read about him. But…he was French. And he died in France. And it’s not our nature to pay much attention to people outside the United States.
Even the heroes.
In French the word is ‘héros’
Beltrame wasn’t simply a hero, however, he was the type of hero most of us could never be. (And by “most of us” I mean – me.)
A while back scientists studied more than 50 individuals who were awarded the Carnegie Hero Medal, which is presented to civilians who put their lives in danger to save strangers. Researchers determined that most heroes acted spontaneously.
As David Rand, assistant professor of psychology at Yale University, described it, “Our analyses show that overwhelmingly, extreme altruists report acting first and thinking later.”
We get that.
We understand spontaneous, unselfish action. We even convince ourselves that we might do the same thing.
It wasn’t like that for Beltrame.
French President Emmanuel Macron leans at the coffin of Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame after he has been posthumously awarded the Legion of Honor, Wednesday March 28, 2018 at the Hotel des Invalides in Paris. The slain hero of last week’s extremist attack in southern France will be posthumously awarded the Legion of Honor by French President Emmanuel Macron during a solemn day-long national homage to him. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
(Photo: Christophe Ena, AP)
There was time enough for him to know that if he chose to act he would probably die. And he did so anyway.
It happened late last month in France when a 25-year-old terrorist shouting loyalty to the Islamic State hijacked a car, shot and wounded the driver and killed the passenger.
He then fired at a group of police reserves and tried to run them over.
He was homicidal and suicidal, and he wound up in a supermarket, where he shot and killed two people, a customer and the market’s butcher, then took hostage a 40-year-old checkout assistant name Julie, the mother of a two-year-old child.
He held her as a human shield after French police, including Beltrame, cornered him.
Making a fatal swap
Beltrame had been a member of police special forces since 2003. He’d served in Iraq in 2005. He’d conducted counter-terrorism training sessions.
He volunteered to trade himself for the hostage, knowing a terrorist’s greatest achievement would be killing a police officer.
Later, Beltrame’s brother Cedric told reporters, “He was well aware he had almost no chance. He was very aware of what he was doing… If we don’t describe him as a hero, I don’t know what you need to do to be a hero.”
Beltrame was 44. He would have turned 45 on Apr. 18. He was married, but he and his wife have no children.
He turned on his cellphone as he walked into the supermarket, so those outside would hear what was going on. The woman was released but not Beltrame. He was shot and stabbed by the terrorist who, in turn, was killed by police.
A name worth remembering
French President Emmanuel Macron said the officer’s greatness “transfixed the whole of France.”
He was posthumously awarded the “Commander of the Legion d’Honneur.”
It’s been less than a month since his death and those of us outside of France already have forgotten the name of Arnaud Beltrame, assuming it registered with us in the first place.
The officer received a large state funeral.
Redefining a ‘greater love’
Even if you are not religious you’ve probably heard some version of the bible passage — John 15:13 – that goes: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
That lovely verse, it turns out, is NOT true. Beltrame proved it.
He proved there is a greater level of selflessness than what is described in the bible.
Not for most of us. Or even for many of us. But for a few, like Beltrame.
He laid down his life.
Not for his friends, but for a total stranger.
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