At the Hotel Rwanda
Paul Rusesabagina would like you to know that he was never a hero, though he was a pretty good hotel manager.
That's because real heroes (unlike, say, baseball players who lace doubles on sunny Saturdays) tend to explain that when they perform courageous feats to help others, they're really just being themselves, doing what they believe is right, feeling that they had no real choice to do otherwise. Rusesabagina, you may recall, was the Rwandan hotel official who in 1994 opted not to flee that country's Hutu-Tutsi civil war, as many influential people did, instead sheltering 1,200 refugees in his surrounded complex. Somehow, he kept rampaging Hutu militiamen at bay for two months through a combination of courage, cooperation, and cooptation. Everyone in his care survived, while outside more than 800,000 people were killed. (One eventual offshoot was the chilling 2004 film "Hotel Rwanda.")
Asked about being heroic, Rusesabagina once told an interviewer: "That was nothing special. I was a hotel manager. I just kept on being a hotel manager. If to be a hero is to remain who you are, everyone would be a hero." Recalling how the ordeal began, he said, "The very first day, I had 26 neighbors in my house. When I had to leave my house, I was not going to leave those people behind. So it became a very big extended family, from six to 62 and then 400 and something. That is how it happened. People kept coming to the hotel. And, toward the end, I had 1,268 people. It would have been easier to care for six people - my wife and four children and myself - than caring for 1,000. But if you turn your back, leave 1,000 people, that's on your hands. That is cowardice."
So maybe being a hero sometimes means just making sure that you don't become a coward. After the hotel siege, Rusesabagina worked to restore order in Rwanda. Eventually, he left for Belgium, where he drove a taxi and opened a small trucking company. The hero who doesn't hit baseballs speaks tomorrow at 5 p.m. at Gasson Hall, Boston College, 140 Commonwealth Ave., Chestnut Hill. Admission is free.