Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Light One Candle
Meet an ordinary hero

by Dennis Heaney

(From the March 22, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Dennis Heaney I’ve lived in Manhattan long enough to know that it takes a lot to impress New Yorkers. But on Jan. 2, the day most workers were heading back to their jobs after the New Year’s holiday, one man made the city sit up and take notice.

Wesley Autry, a 50-year-old construction worker and navy veteran, was waiting for his subway train with his two daughters, 6 and 4, planning to drop them off on his way to work. Suddenly, Cameron Hollopeter, a 20-year-old film student standing near them appeared to have a seizure. Autry and two women tried to help him, but he stumbled off the platform and onto the tracks – and into the path of a rumbling train.

Pausing just long enough to see that the women had his daughters, Autry jumped down and wrestled the disoriented young man into the filthy, wet, barely two-foot high space between the tracks just before the second subway car screeched to a halt on top of them. It took twenty minutes before transit workers were able to get them out.

Meantime, Autry yelled the good news to the people on the platform, “Let my daughters know that I’m okay and that the man is okay!” Everyone burst into applause. Amazingly, neither man was hurt although Hollopeter was taken to a hospital where Autry visited him – before going on to his construction job at a Brooklyn school.

By the next day, the media was heralding Wesley Autry as a “subway savior,” a “superman” and an “angel.” If those headlines were a trifle exaggerated, the basic point was not: the city had discovered a genuine put-your-life-on-the-line hero. Of course, in true 21st century American style, Autry was interviewed on TV news shows, received rewards including $5,000 from Hollopeter’s school and was honored at City Hall. Mayor Michael Bloomberg not only gave Autry a medal and a year’s worth of free subway travel, but the folks at Disneyworld offered him and his family a week’s vacation.

But the man who saved a life only two days earlier was able to keep things in perspective. He told those gathered to salute him that “I’m grateful for everything. I guess good things happen when you do good, and that’s what I’m saying. All New Yorkers, we need to do good.”

Those words impressed me almost as much as his life-saving actions. All of us “need to do good” whether good things happen to us in return, or not. Wesley Autry certainly wasn’t contemplating a trip to Disneyworld when in only seconds he decided to risk his own life to save someone else. These days we tend to use the word “hero” freely, too freely. Are you a hero because you’ve won the World Series or the Super Bowl? Are you a hero because you’re a superstar with your name in lights?

Of course not. And we know it. Heroism demands sacrifice and risk. And there are times when heroism means something more: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12) – or even a stranger.

Wesley Autry, ordinary guy and extraordinary man, put it this way: “You’re supposed to come to people’s rescue.”

Spoken like a true hero.

(Dennis Heaney is Director of The Christophers, an organization dedicated to the proposition that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. For a free copy of the Christopher News Note “Positive Attitudes, Positive Choices,” write to: The Christophers, 12 E. 48th St., New York, NY 10017; or e-mail:

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