Heroes #3: Deb Cohan and Antoinette Tuff

These two women aren’t celebrities. Most of us didn’t know about them before last year. They aren’t heroes for seeking our attention, or seeking thrills, or seeking danger–they’re heroes because when their lives called for them to do something extraordinary, they didn’t shrink from it.

Ordinary people who did something extraordinary, then went back to being ordinary. The stuff of almost every great story.

Deb Cohan went in for a major, life-saving, life-altering surgery and turned it into a celebration.

Now, I had major surgery last year–my incredible surgeon cut a tumor from my colon, along with about half of the organ, leaving me facing several months of recovery and, hopefully, several more decades of life. Given the options, the choice was a no-brainer. And unless I take my shirt off and show you my scar, you’ll never know I had surgery.

A double mastectomy is different. The goal is the same–to save the patient’s life. But losing her breasts is much more serious to a woman than losing his colon was to me. Oh, there are prosthetics, there are reconstructive surgeries so good no one need ever know–but she knows. A major component of her womanhood is gone. It’s a high price to pay, even for several more decades of life.

That’s the price Deb Cohan faced when she went into the prep room. She might have cowered, cried, prayed, pleaded, and nobody would have thought any less of her. She’s human, we would have said. It’s a tough moment for anyone.

Instead, she turned the prep room into a dance party. And made a video of it. And published the video in hopes that it might inspire others.

You can see it here.

Antoinette Tuff went to work one morning expecting a normal day. Her day turned to anything but normal when a man carrying a rifle walked into the school where she worked and started threatening her.

It’s a scene that’s become all too familiar to us: a man walks into a school with a gun, or several guns, and starts shooting. He targets children because his pain has become so great that he can’t take it any more, and he wants others to experience the same level of pain before he ends his own. So he shoots our children, but his real target is us. We’ll notice him now, and we’ll know how he feels, because we’ll feel it ourselves. And we’ll know his name, know he had ultimate power for a few minutes, know there was nothing we could do to stop him from destroying what was most precious to us, then leaving this world by his own hand and on his own terms.

Conservatives tell us we can stop the pattern by arming teachers and school administrators, so when somebody comes into a school intent on doing harm they can stop him in the most final way possible–never mind that such a practice would simply shift the headlines from school shootings to all the myriad accidents that would occur when we brought guns into schools.

Liberals tell us we can stop the pattern with better mental health practices, or screening, or by being better parents–never mind that we already have some of the best mental health facilities and practitioners in the world, and the folks who perpetrate these shootings usually have access to them, and it’s impossible to force parents to do anything they don’t already mean to do.

Antoinette wasn’t armed, and mental health and parenting had already failed the man pointing his rifle at her. But she was the only thing between that rifle and eight hundred kids. She might have cowered, cried, prayed, pleaded, and nobody would have thought any less of her. She’s human, we would have said. It’s a tough moment for anyone.

Instead, she put her body firmly between the rifle and the kids. And she did something much harder than shooting him, or cowering, or just doing what he told her.

She loved him. She helped him see life is hard for everybody, but there is hope. Even for someone like him.

And he put down his rifle and surrendered.

You can read about it here and here.

I've been a soldier, a dreamer, a working stiff, a leader. A husband, father, example (good and otherwise), and now a survivor. I write about courage, because courage is what enables us to accomplish the impossible. If you draw breath, I love you. If you love in whatever way seems best to you and want others to love in whatever way seems best to them, I am your ally. If you believe someone is less than you because they do not love the way you do, I oppose you. If you see someone as a threat to be abused or destroyed merely because they do not look like you, or love like you, or worship like you, I am your enemy. I am a joyful and courageous man. And I stand with you who love.