Balint: The true face of heroism

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As I write this to get it in before my deadline, we in the Senate are still wrangling over the details of Earned Leave legislation known as the Paid Sick Leave bill.

Although we passed it out of the Senate by a wide margin, 218, our rules allow a Senator on the winning side of the vote to reopen the vote for reconsideration. Senator Bill Doyle (R - Washington) made this request on the floor last week. He was keen to switch his vote on a last-minute amendment and possibly change his vote on the bill itself.

To many he is a hero. And to the advocates who have been pushing for this legislation for years, those who voted to guarantee this benefit to our working families are the heroes. But I think that word is bandied about in politics too liberally and should only be reserved for the truly remarkable.

As I drove home from the legislature last Friday, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reported on an awe-inspiring story I'd heard kicking around since the horrific massacre at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris in November. Rumors surfaced in the days and weeks following the terrorist attack that a security guard at the Bataclan, who is Muslim, repeatedly risked his life to save those trapped inside. I am so grateful to Beardsley for chasing this story down. It is true. And it is amazing.

The man goes by the name Didi. He did not supply his full name because he fears retaliation by the terrorists surely still in sleeper cells in France. He is of North African descent and grew up in a hardscrabble immigrant neighborhood with a similar profile to those of the attackers. But where they mined darkness, he nurtured the light.

When the killers attacked, Didi ran around opening more emergency exits for escape routes and then brought concert-goers to safety in an apartment building across the street from the concert hall. Once his charges were safe, he'd scurry back across the street to the concert hall to gather more terrified patrons and then lead them to safety. He risked his life over and over again. It is estimated that Didi saved between 400 to 500 people that night.

One of the many patrons he saved was a 40-year-old woman named Myriam. She told NPR, "(H)is job was to get drunks out of the club and things like that. But he was so brave. He knew the exits. He could've run. But he didn't. He took care of us."

On the night of the attack, Myriam's baby was only a few months old. Like all parents do, after such a close brush with the death, Myriam frets that her child came so close to losing her mother. She says of Didi, "My life will never be long enough to thank him for what he did."

Another man who spoke with Beardsley recounted how Didi found him crawling around on the floor of the concert hall desperately searching for his glasses; he could not see well enough without them to flee. Didi found him and led him to safety through a door behind the stage. He's certain he would be dead if it hadn't been for Didi, and he credits this courageous man with salvaging his faith in humanity.

Some of those he saved that horrid night have started a petition to nominate Didi for the National Order of the Legion of HonourFrance's highest award. Started in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, the order wisely does not bestow this award on members of Parliament.

Becca Balint writes from Brattleboro on history, politics and culture. She currently serves as a state senator from Windham County.


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