Heroes among us

The deeper the abyss of despair, in which a man sinks, the more violent is the uproar of his soul, craving for happiness.
                                                                                                      Stephan Zweig.

Once in a while my readers ask me: did you personally know heroic people with iron will power, who became protagonists in your novels? Was there a true story, which triggered your inspiration and transformed later in your mind into a literary thriller?
Before going into details of writing process, I’d say this: heroes and unusual circumstances are around us, but we rarely pay attention to them, or fail to fully appreciate how interesting, if not mysterious, they are. We all encounter such people and situations, but it takes a writer to blend them into a story, which becomes more believable than actual events.
Many years ago I had a close friend, with whom I went many times on wilderness trips in search of thrills and adventures. Let me call him Sam, as his real name has no significance for this blog. Before telling details of major challenge in his life, I shall briefly introduce his character and how it showed up in some unordinary circumstances, which I was one of the witnesses.
Sam had a habit, or rather a whim of travel adventurer, to swim in any water, which we happened to come upon during our trips. High in the mountains, he swam in the lakes, fed by glaciers; the temperature there was as low as 4 Celsius. This was a sure way to have hypothermia and die in less than 5 minutes. He swam in the rivers, rushing with the speed of free fall; the stream could easily carry along huge logs. And he swam in the ocean, were waves reached two or three meters high. I never asked him why did he do that, and never followed his example, as even without unnecessary risks our trips were often dangerous enough due to unusual circumstances, unavoidable in wilderness trips.
There was one time though, when I believed he would compromise his principle of tapping new waters. This was in Everglades National Park in Florida, where swarms of alligators and crocodiles thrive in the tropical climate. Although in the northern hemisphere it was winter, in Everglades the Mercury climbed to 35 Celsius. Dense clouds of mosquitoes surrounded us, biting and buzzing in the joy of blood feast. Soon the trail brought us to a small lake, the blue surface of which was smooth and flat, like a huge piece of glass, reflecting blue sky with a few clouds, and forest on the opposite side. To the left of the trail was a dense growth of mangrove, impassable for humans and most of mammals. In a small clearing inside it we noticed two alligators, enjoying the hot afternoon in the shallow water.
At that time digital cameras did not exist. It took some time for me to get my analog camera ready. I blocked the passage, through which the alligators could escape into the lake, and finally made a picture, in spite of their hissing protest. When I turned around, I saw Sam removing his T-shirt and shorts.
“What are you doing?” I asked him, not believing my own eyes. “I can’t let alligators stand on the way of my principals,” he said, in plunged into the lake. “You are crazy,” I shouted, when his head appeared above the surface. He did not respond, apparently agreeing with me. A few minutes later he came out, unharmed.

Alligators basking in the shade of mangrove

Author's Photo

That day, fighting with clouds of vicious mosquitoes, we hiked until sun rolled down under horizon, yielding the sky to the moon and stars. While passing by the lake where Sam swam in the morning, I turned my powerful flashlight on and swept its light around. The beam bounced back from the eyes of alligators, their heads floating on the quiet surface of the lake.
“You see, what company you had during your swimming session?” I asked.
Next year Sam fell ill. No doctor was able to diagnose his decease, but its presence was more than evident; he became very thin, almost all his flash was gone. At that time we went hiking in Yosemite National Park in California; Sam said that mountains and fresh air would cure his ills, but most likely he just wanted to say farewell to nature, which he loved so much. This time though, the spectacular views of the park did not help. When we returned, the doctor sent him for MRI procedure. The long, narrow tube of this medical device is not for the weak heart. Its diameter is just the width of a human body; it could be a terrifying experience for a claustrophobic man. I was once in it with my injured shoulder for about twenty minutes, and wouldn’t like to be there anymore. Panic fits in it can be much worse than any pain inflicted on flesh. Sam was there almost four hours, lying still, slowly breathing, not moving a finger, to make the scanned image as clear as possible. The result indicated without a trace of doubt that he had cancer in his stomach, likely reaching the last stage.
The operation was performed in the next few days. There was little that the surgeon could have done, as the whole organ was affected. About two thirds of the stomach was removed. The doctor prescribed chemo therapy, but just as the matter of formality, as there was no hope for recovery.
I visited Sam a few times during his treatment. It was winter; every day he took his cross country skis and went to the closest park, where he routinely made a trip about fifteen kilometers long. Every day, no matter how cold or miserable the weather was, how low his mood was, or how weak his body felt. Once I went with him. When we came back, he was pale, and visibly exhausted.
“You should not go that far,” I cautiously advised him. “I still can do it,” he said. “It’s a challenge, and I like challenge, as you know. There is one thing that bothers me more, which I can’t cope with.”
“What is it?” I asked. “Mental torture,” he said. “I often see things that do not exist. Yesterday I saw my father, who died long time ago. I knew that he was dead, but he came, dressed in his old suite, and spoke to me. He assured me that he was not dead… Anyway, I won’t tell you all those nightmarish things of the sick mind. Sometimes I ask myself: is it worth to go through all these, to survive? But I love life. I enjoy nature. I’ll give it a try.”
A year later Sam went to a hospital for a scheduled check up. No trace of cancer was found. Another year passed, and again no cancer was found. Sam was healthy again; he demonstrated his guts in another event in Collingwood, a countryside north of Toronto. There is a big rock, hollow inside, with two narrow cracks on opposite sides. It is called “Fat Man Nightmare,” if my memory does not fail me. Our eleven-years-old daughter, thin and small as her age suggests, went inside one crack and came out from the other with not much effort. But for the grown up person, man or woman, it was impossible. Was it? Sam tried it. Inch by inch he squeezed his large torso through the crack, and after two minutes of effort he was inside. Should he panic there, no one would be able to remove him from there, as the stone was three-four feet thick, capable of withstanding a powerful blast. Sam came out of the second crack, which was even narrower than the first one.
What would happen with such a person if he or she, by the caprice of providence, will be trapped in life threatening conflict? What he or she would do facing the dilemma: compromise your moral principals, your spiritual values, and survive, or be alive, carrying your moral burden till the rest of your life?
That’s where the writer’s imagination comes into play. Knowledge of real-life heroes, some research, and imagination, give the writer abundant material for his or her stories.

For more information please go to My web site  or  Twitter

My latest books: Payback for Revenge, Messenger of Death. Coming soon in print and in electronic format: Contra-ODESSA

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One Response to Heroes among us

  1. Ilya says:

    Privet. Thank you. It was a very nice blog. It was also a long time ago.

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