Cook: What happens when the hero dies?

Cook: What happens when the hero dies?

April 1st, 2012 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

Greater love hath no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. - John's Gospel

The hero's journey is an old path, traveled by men, women and children since the beginning of time.

Think of Jackie Robinson. Crazy Horse. Mary Magdalene. Odysseus. Susan B. Anthony.

The journey begins with a calling of sorts, and the leaving of what is comfortable and familiar for a new land that contains monsters, mountaintops and nights so dark you cannot see one boot step in front of the other.

Think of mothers in labor. Hospice patients. Soldiers leaving home. Jesus in the wilderness. The first day of kindergarten.

It is never easy, this journey. Through gritted teeth and white knuckles, the fears are confronted, monsters slain. The hero is born in that victory, and returns home to offer his community a vision of a life well lived.

Courage winning over fear. Love and goodness instead of evil. Our higher and better selves rather than our basest desires.

Think of Sgt. Tim Chapin.

One year ago on Monday, Chattanooga police Sgt. Chapin died in a gunbattle outside the U.S. Money Shops on Brainerd Road.

It was 10:30 in the morning when he took that step toward Brainerd Road. The call came: A silent alarm had been triggered.

There was a monster with guns, stealing what did not belong to him. Money first, then the life of a good man.

"He was there backing us up," said Chattanooga police officer Lorin Johnston of Chapin, his sergeant. "He was that type of guy, a sergeant who wanted to be with his men."

It was the first step Chapin took that matters so much. His black police-issued shoe turning sharply on the asphalt, without hesitation, toward danger and not away from it -- that we should remember.

Because we can be tricked into thinking that Chapin's story is a tragedy only, that the monster won.

But doing so would be like watching the sunrise only by its reflection. Or reading a book only by its middle chapters. There is far more to the story than we know. Yes, Chapin is gone. But not fully or forever.

"We lost a good man that day," said Johnston. "He's watching down on us now, wanting us to move on with our life and do the right thing, all the time."

That first step toward the U.S. Money Shops matters so much to us today. Yes, he and every other officer is trained to respond in such a way, but if we could let that moment serve as a symbol, we might find a deeper meaning.

I hesitate so many times in my life. On the fence, between doing what I know is right and falling back into a cowardly easiness, like sitting down in a room I know I should leave.

These minor struggles never compare to the violence on Brainerd Road last year, but Chapin reminds me of many things, the least of these that the toughest decisions can indeed be made with dignity, devotion and guts, walking like a tightrope the thin blue line.

In the journey of our lives, we want the hero to always win. But what happens when it seems the hero has been lost, swallowed like Jonah yet never returned?

What happens when the hero dies?

Once upon a time, a great hero was defeated. Crushed, ground down under the heel of evil.

His friends and family were wrenched in half. They had counted on him, leaned on him as a teacher, brother, friend. He was not supposed to die. That's not how the story was supposed to go.

And at his burial, they hung their heads. And thought he was gone forever.

This is the story we tell about Christ.

It is also the story of Sgt. Tim Chapin.

David Cook can be reached at