His act, visibly and unmistakably, exhibited all the qualities of courage. Despite the dangers he faced, Jeff Liberty remained attentive and in control. It was a case of "grace under pressure," as Ernest Hemingway once defined courage.
"Virtue," said Lady Marguerite Blessington, "like a dowerless beauty, has more admirers than followers." The 19th-century English author, who had a penchant for stating paradoxes, was not being cynical. She was merely observing a fact, one that raises the embarrassing question, "Why is it that we human beings do not imitate what we admire, if not most of the time, at least more often than we do?"
We praise virtue because of its excellence. But we also praise it for its difficulty. Saintliness, the fullness of virtue, is as rare as it is beautiful.
Taking the Plunge
The scene is a park in Calgary, Alberta, on a cold November day. An automobile has broken through a fence, torn over an embankment, and plunged into the frigid waters of the Bow River. The driver, a 22-year-old woman by the name of Shannon Roberts, lost control of her vehicle because of diabetic shock.
Startled onlookers yell to the woman, imploring her to get out of her car. Recognizing that their advice is not being heeded and sizing up the gravity of the situation, Jeff Liberty goes into action. He strips down to his boxers and dives into the chilling water. Very quickly, he comes in contact with the sinking car. He tries to open the door, but his efforts are in vain. He bangs on the car window and motions the woman to roll it down. She manages to get the window sufficiently lowered so that Jeff can open it the rest of the way. He then proceeds to unfasten her safety belt and eases her through the open window and out to safety.
Grace Under Pressure
The ordeal lasted approximately five minutes. The water was deep enough that Jeff never touched bottom. During his life-saving rescue, he recognized that the woman had gone into a deeper state of shock as the water began flooding into the car. He realized that he would have to shoulder the burden of the rescue. When he surfaced and carried the woman to shore, the onlookers along the bank of the river applauded Jeff, as did Canadians across the country, once they read about his daring rescue in the press.
His act, visibly and unmistakably, exhibited all the qualities of courage. Despite the dangers he faced, he remained attentive and in control. It was a case of "grace under pressure," as Ernest Hemingway once defined courage. There was the element of selflessness, as he focused on the needs of the endangered woman. And there was decisiveness. He knew what needed to be done and he did it freely, quickly, and effectively.
Jeff Liberty, almost instantly, became a national hero. "What was it like diving into the frigid Bow River, and how could you function so well under such adverse conditions?" This is the question he was obliged to answer again and again. "I guess my adrenaline kind of set in and I didn't really notice the cold anymore," was his modest response.
Finding Hidden Strength
God equips us with remarkable capacities for doing extraordinary things under difficult circumstances. Our stress response in a time of crisis is far greater than we realize. Courage in practice releases abilities that lie dormant deep within ourselves. Courage mobilizes them and we surprise ourselves, even "out-do" ourselves, so to speak. Like other virtues, courage transforms us into better, larger, more capable human beings. Unbidden by courage, extraordinary human powers remain latent, unexercised, unknown.
Jeff Liberty's story has two further pieces of information that add immeasurably to its charm. He is an Olympic swimmer who represented Canada at the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia in the year 2000. In addition, the woman was in the first trimester of her pregnancy (the incident has not appeared to harm either her or her unborn child). Canadian readers have feasted on the story. It will be a while before the child will be able to appreciate it himself. But what a story mom has stored in her heart to tell her child one day! Better than any fairy tale how courage and a stranger with the improbable name of Liberty, on the day after Remembrance Day, saved both their lives and provided them with the conviction that virtue should be imitated in addition to being admired.
DeMarco, Donald. "Courage." Lay Witness (May/June 2003).
This article is reprinted with permission from Lay Witness magazine. Lay Witness is a publication of Catholic United for the Faith, Inc., an international lay apostolate founded in 1968 to support, defend, and advance the efforts of the teaching Church.
Donald DeMarco is adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary and professor emeritus at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo Ontario. He is a regular columnist for the Saint Austin Review. DeMarco is the author of twenty books, including Reflections on the Covid-19 Pandemic: A Search for Understanding, How to Remain Sane in a World That is Going Mad, Poetry That Enters the Mind and Warms the Heart, The Heart of Virtue, The Many Faces of Virtue, and Architects Of The Culture Of Death. Donald DeMarco is on the Advisory Board of The Catholic Education Resource Center.Copyright © 2003 LayWitness
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