Daniel Parmenter is an American hero. At least he will be remembered as such by those who know of him. I don’t want to use the tragedy of his death to score political points, although they may be mentioned in passing. I want to tell his story, because it is a story that needs to be told.
As a child, Daniel underwent surgery for a heart defect. His survival and good health inspired his family to dub him their “miracle child.” The ailment did little to stifle the activity of this gentle giant. Daniel was known for his courage and character. He was the type of boy who rescued a smaller boy from a tree and later stuck up for him to the schoolyard bully. With Daniel’s athleticism and size he got a starting position for his high school football team. When an injury jeopardized his effectiveness, he offered to give up his position for the good of the team. But the injury didn’t keep him from playing rugby in college.
On Valentine’s Day last month, he called his mother and his sister to tell them he loved them. He had a way of making women feel special. He gave his girlfriend a rose on their first date and that night he planned to give her a silver necklace.
Later that day he sat with his girlfriend in the front row of an oceans science class at Northern Illinois University. A deranged former student entered the classroom and opened fire. Daniel pulled his girlfriend to the floor and covered her body with his enormous 6’5″ frame. She was shot in the hip and in the abdomen but ultimately survived the attack. Daniel did not. He took two bullets to the head, two to the back, and one in his side.
It was a tragedy. As with so many tragedies, it gave us a profound look at the dark side of mankind. But that is not the whole story. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, “The line between good and evil runs straight through every human heart.” On that day we saw light as well; we saw a good man thwart an evil man’s intentions and save life instead of destroy it.
What would possess a man to lay down his life for another?
As gun shots rang out Daniel was heard praying aloud. In emergencies as in periods of peace actions of chivalry and religion will often coexist or even become indistinguishable. They both comprise what Edmund Burke called the Moral Imagination. Those it influences especially distinguish themselves in adversity. The Moral Imagination knows no better exemplar than Daniel Parmenter. It is on the backs of the likes of him that civilizations are built-and maintained. He is a man in the deepest and truest ontological sense.
Harvard Professor Harvey Mansfield defines manliness thusly, “Manliness brings change or restores order at moments when routine is not enough, when the plan fails, when the whole idea of rational control by modern science develops leaks.”
Modern society restricts guns, teaches sensitivity, lectures against aggression and yet can’t seem to squelch the darkness of the human soul nor seriously hamper its capacity to destroy. On that day all that modern society could rationally do to keep that tragedy from happening failed. Against that evil the only defense was a man like Daniel Parmenter, to paraphrase Whittaker Chambers, a man whose life and faith was so completely one that when the time came to step out for his faith he did so, disregarding all risks and accepting all consequences.
Manliness takes its highest form in its tendency toward protectiveness. Mansfield writes,
Manly protectiveness is the responsible side of manliness…A man protects those whom he has taken in his care against dangers they cannot face or handle without him. He makes an issue of some matter, engages his honor, and takes charge of the situation either as a routine or in an emergency.
Daniel took issue with a mad man firing shots at his girlfriend and classmates. In all likelihood at least some of the bullets he took would have struck her and killed her. Mansfield continues, “Not every activity of protection carries a risk, as when a man provides peaceably for his family. But the willingness to take on risk is the primary protection enveloping all other ways of providing for someone.” Daniel’s actions demonstrated where his thoughts and his honor lay and he died as he had lived, giving himself for another.
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