HOLD FAST FRIDAY 1/29/2016
When the Greeks created the heroic ideal, they didn’t choose a word that meant “Dies Trying” or “Massacres Bad Guys.” They went with “Protector.”
The following passage is from the book titled Natural Born Heroes, written by Christopher McDougall. The book is a fascinating account of acts of heroism.
MY LAWRENCE OF ARABIA – the person who first made me realize heroism was a skill, not a virtue – was a middle-aged women with big round glasses who ran a small elementary school in the Pennsylvania countryside. On February 2, 2001 Norina Bentzel was in her office when a man with a machete went after her kindergartners. It’s been then years since I heard what happened next, and only now am I beginning to understand the answer to one question:
Why didn’t she quit?
How does a forty-two-year-oul grade school principal who’s never been in a fight take on a frenzied Army vet and keep battling him – relentlessly, with her bare hands, at only five foot three – as he’s slashing at her with a blade that can cut through a tree branch? It’s remarkable that she had the tenacity to confront him, but the real mystery is how she persisted when, very quickly, she must have realized she was doomed to lose. Because that’s the ugly truth about heroism: the tests don’t start when you’re ready or stop when you’re tired. You don’t get time-outs, warm-ups, or bathroom breaks. You may have a headache or be wearing the wrong pants or find yourself – the way Norina did – in a skirt and low heals in a school hallway becoming slick with her own blood.
Michael Stankewicz was a social studies teacher at a Baltimore high school who began simmering with rage and paranoia after his third wife left him. His violent threats got him fired, hospitalized, and eventually jailed. After he was released, he picked up a machete and drove to the school his step children once attended – North Hopewell – Winterstown Elementary, in sleepy, rural York County, Pennsylvania. Just before lunch, Norina Bentzel happened to glance out her window and see someone slip through the front door behind a mother with two children. She went to find out who he was and discovered a stranger peering into the kindergarten.
“Excuse me, sir,” Norina said. “Is there someone I can help you find?”
Stankewicz wheeled, yanking the machete out of his left pant leg. He slashed at Nornia’s throat, missing by a hair and slicing off the plastic ID tag hanging around her neck. A sad and strangely articulate thought ran through her mind: there is no one in my environment who can help. She was alone in this. Whatever she did in the next few seconds would determine who made it out of that school alive.
Norina could have screamed and fled. She could have curled up in a ball and begged for mercy, or lunged for Stankewicz’s wrist. Instead she crossed her arms in front of her face in an X and backed away. Stankewicz kept chopping and slashing, but Nornia rolled with the blows, never taking her eyes of him or allowing him to close the gap and get her to the floor. Norina led Stankewicz away from the classrooms and down the hall toward her office. She managed to slip inside, bolt the door, and hit the lockdown alarm with her gashed and blood-soaked hand.
She was a second too late. Some of the kindergartners were just exiting their classroom as the alarm sounded. Stankewicz went after them. He gashed the teacher’s arm, sliced off a girl’s ponytail, broke a boy’s arm. The children fled toward the office, where Norina once again faced Stankewicz. The machete slashed deep into her hands, severing two of her fingers. Norina looked done for, so Stankewicz turned to seek fresh victims – and that’s when Norina leaped. She wrapped him in a bear hug, hanging on with the last of her strength as he thrashed and lunged and –
He dropped the machete. The school nurse grabbed it and ran out in the hall. Stankewicz staggered to the desk, Norina still clinging to his back. Soon sirens and thundering footsteps were approaching. Norina had lost nearly half her blood but was rushed to the hospital in time to save her life. Stankewicz surrendered.