Heroes, the News, and Little Things Lost Along The Way

Last week, while enjoying our family vacation at Edisto Island, SC, my parents found a waterlogged camera in the sand. After prying open the case, I discovered that the memory card had been protected and that it contained over 1,800 images of family, friends, and adventures. As a photographer, I knew how important images can be, so I made a simple post on Facebook in the attempt to locate the owners of said camera.

After posting, I left it alone and kind of forgot about it for a couple days. There were more important things to do, like running across the beach with my four year old niece and nephew and taking naps on the hammock with my five month old addition to the family (another nephew). It wasn’t until a good friend from school messaged me (very urgently) saying that I needed to check my ‘Others’ folder. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as an ‘others’ folder in the Facebook Message system.

In that folder was a message from an excited and relieved mother who had lost her sons camera in the ocean several weeks earlier. I had found the owners of the camera. I could send it back to them, returning their memories and hopefully bring a smile to their faces.

But the story didn’t stop there. My Facebook post had been shared more than 47 thousand times. Somewhere in those several thousand shares, the local news station out of Charleston caught wind of the story. They wanted to interview me. And they aired the story on the ABC 4 News in Charleston. It was also aired in the owners hometown on the ABC 11 News in Raleigh, NC. Then, somehow it got picked up by Good Morning America’s news blog thingermojig, and the ABC National News website. Even KLOVE Radio shared the story on air.

Most people (I think) would love all the attention, but I feel torn about all the publicity. I didn’t post on Facebook with the intention to become famous, or get more friends, likes, or whatever. I posted because it is what I felt like I should do. If I had lost a camera, memory card, and all the images that it contains, I would hope that someone takes the effort to return it to me.

I feel like I’m going to forever be remembered as the guy who got the camera back to this family. But I am so much more than that. I would rather be remembered as the guy who brought happiness through a simple gesture of kindness. Or the dude that makes people smile and laugh. Or simply as an uncle. A loved one. A blessing.

As I was driving back to Virginia, I was wondering why this story was making such a big splash. Why was this story more important than all the others? I know, everyone likes a ‘feel good’ story, but what makes me returning a camera more special than a young man who spent the past several hours loving a good friend, talking them out of taking their own life? Or the wildland firefighters who are returning home after two weeks battling the flames? Or the 16.6 thousand volunteers who poured into New Orleans to continue serving, ten years after the city was left in ruins? Or the thousands of National Service members who have dedicated a year of service to our nation, serving in schools, through conservation, and in the wake of disasters?

I asked myself why I am the hero and not the rest of these individuals? And I didn’t have an answer. I still don’t. And I’m still struggling with it.

One of my favorite quotes comes from the movie Black Hawk Down, and I think it applies:

A friend of mine asked me before I got here, just when we were shippin’ out, he asked me “Why are you goin’ to fight somebody else’s war? What, do y’all think you’re heroes?” I didn’t know what to say at the time, but if he asked me again, I’d say “No.” I’d say there is no way in hell. Nobody asks to be a hero. It just sometimes turns out that way.

Nobody sets out to be a hero. It just happens. You find a camera and search for the family to return it. You sit and listen to a friend’s struggles and you are there to comfort them in the darkness. You become a nameless volunteer and change someone’s life through your service. You smile as you pass a stranger on the street. You hold the hands of someone who just lost everything to the wrath of nature and you act out of love. And you become a hero to someone else.

You may never get the recognition. Or you may run from it. But it doesn’t change the fact that you made someone smile, you saved their life, you shaped their world. And that, my friends, is what loving is really all about.

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