The McFarlands gathered last summer to tell one another how we have not changed a bit since the last reunion—even though we looked at photographs of times past that prove we lied about that--and also to tell one another how many aches and pains we have developed since we last saw each other face to face,
I put one of those lie-proving photo albums together myself, out of the many boxes of loose photos we have here and there. It includes the men of my father’s generation in their WWII uniforms. It was a generation of wingmen. [I include women in that title, of course.]
“Wingman” these days means something quite different. Guys talk about taking a wingman along to a bar as they try to pick up women. The characters of “The Big Bang Theory” TV show say the wingman’s job is to back up their lies as they talk to a woman.
When my Uncle Jesse was a Navy pilot, though, “wingman” meant someone who was watching out for you, someone you relied on for the truth, even if it meant telling you there was an enemy on your tail. Especially if it meant telling you there is an enemy on your tail.
Television’s Mr. Rogers says that his mother told him, “Look for the helpers.” The helpers are the wingmen. Like Riley Howell, the twenty-one-year-old student at UNC-Charlotte who charged the shooter in his classroom. He was killed in the process. He undoubtedly knew he would die if he did that. But he did it anyway, and he saved the lives of his classmates.
I mourn for Riley and for his parents and for all who loved him. I pray for the passage of his soul. But I know that he lived more in one moment than most of us do in a lifetime, and I honor him.
In this world of greed and selfishness, where money and power are the only things considered good, look not to the takers but for the helpers. Trust your wingman. Like Riley Howell.
John Robert McFarland
“Without courage, no other virtue is possible.”