One of my heroes. Heroines. Whatever.

16 11 2009

Once in awhile, a story of human courage gets to you in a way that makes you want to jump up and dance, or laugh, or charge a rhinoceros, or hug a Hamas leader.

When I hear these stories, I often cannot imagine myself in that hero’s position. Ok, I can never imagine myself in that position. It just seems too remote to imagine me, ordinary Ms. Writer, rappelling down a cliff face to rescue a group of trapped climbers, or negotiating with violent kidnappers who will accept nothing less than $3 trillion. That’s just not me. So I listen to those stories in admiration, but don’t let them get inside and change my life.

Rarely do I hear a story that at once inspires me with its courage and strikes a chord enough to cause me to believe I could do something similar.

The incident that got me thinking was a recent talk by freelance journalist Orly Halpern. (Read her blog here: http://orlyhalpern.wordpress.com which has many if not all of her articles) The young Jewish woman reports largely from the Middle East, from war zones like Iraq and from some of the most poverty-stricken areas of the world.

She didn’t get a BA in journalism, but knew enough about writing to have the confidence to approach the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz and offer to report for them. They took her on, so the story goes, because she was willing to travel to Palestine’s hot spots for stories.

That was rare. Israelis – especially young Jewish women – didn’t generally jump at the chance to go to Palestinian cities during the second intifada, or uprising. Soon Halpern had more and more work, and she’s been freelancing ever since.

She decided to go to Iraq because she didn’t want to be left out of “recording history”. That’s chutzpah. While reporting for the Globe and Mail in 2004, she was briefly kidnapped, and released the same day. She didn’t even mention that fact in her talk.

Describing the hazards of her job and some of the close calls she’s had, Halpern said she guessed things were ok because so far she wasn’t dead.

To my eyes at least, Halpern seemed to scarcely pay attention to the dangers she faced, perhaps because she was so intent on getting the story. It mattered more to her that, on the day Hamas won over the long-ruling Fatah party, she had actually been in Nabluz interviewing the “number five” Hamas leader, than the fact that she could have been in danger as a Jewish woman in Palestinian territories.

That kind of foolhardy courage, the one that risks personal safety to get a story and doesn’t consider the stakes against any other measure than her own gut instinct, is something I can not just admire, but aspire to.

Something about Halpern’s breezy attitude toward it all – the horror of war, the danger, the need to conceal her identity at times – inspired in me the thought, “Hey, I’m a bit like that.”

We all need our heroes. Some of them have courage hardened in a war-zone. Some seem at once foolishly brave and just plain lucky, and way too brave for their britches, like Halpern. But, like she said, she’s still alive and seems to be having a blast, living life her way.

That’s where I want to be.

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