I never knew Dimitrios Gavriel. Never even heard his name until after he was dead.
But last weekend I gave thanks for the guy whose friends called him "Dimmy." The guy who walked away from Wall Street to Marine Basic at sand flea-infested Parris Island, and from there to the sands of Iraq, where he died in combat two weeks ago.
It is Gavriel, and people like him, who are the reason I can sit in a comfortable chair and offer opinions on anything and anybody without risking more than a few angry phone calls or irate letters and e-mails. It is the same for everybody from Michael Moore to Rush Limbaugh, from Dan Rather to Bill O'Reilly. None of them has to fear disappearing in the night, headed for torture and an unmarked grave. None of them shows up after leveling a broadside at those in power with his tongue cut out or his hands cut off.
It is Gavriel and those like him who are the reason we can all still get in our cars and drive from state to state without interference, without risking bombs in the road or random assassinations on our way to work.
It is Gavriel and those like him who are the reason that American women are not forced to walk around with their faces and heads covered, are allowed to drive and to vote and decide for themselves whom they want to marry.
It is Gavriel and those like him who are the reason that a business entrepreneur can reap the rewards of his or her own imagination, motivation and hard work, rather than turning everything over to a central government.
It is hard for many of us — Gavriel's own father says he is among them — to understand what prompts somebody to walk away from what have become the defining elements of the American dream and into danger in a hostile foreign land.
He had it all coming his way by those standards. While still in his 20s, he was pulling down six figures on Wall Street. He was handsome and smart, headed for a great life.
But that wasn't enough to make him what he craved to be — a great man. To achieve that meant giving, not getting.
Maybe it was that he had a greater appreciation for what most of us several generations removed from our immigrant ancestors take for granted. He saw from his own parents the opportunities this country offers that, compared with the rest of the world, seem almost magical. He believed with more passion than most that this was something worth protecting.
Maybe it was the firsthand look at the brevity of life on Sept. 11, 2001, when civilian planes turned into missiles and struck within walking distance of where he worked. Two of his friends died — he was on the phone with one who was frantically trying to make it out of one of the towers when the building collapsed and the phone went dead.
Perhaps it was a desire to be part of a cause greater than self-fulfillment.
Whatever the reasons, he left the comfort, security and money to stand with several dozen other Marine recruits, most of them 10 years younger than he, in the middle of the night with his feet lined up with footprints painted on concrete. That was the start down a road where individuality, from clothes to hair to watches and rings, disappears and you lose yourself to be part of a group that vows to defend a land and a way of life that we all take too much for granted.
You can debate the wisdom or value of the current war, but there should be no debate about the fact that these are the kind of people who ought to be running big businesses, big institutions and government itself. That is why we mourn so greatly, and why the pain of their loss is so acute.
Gavriel was one of our best and brightest, and now he is gone.
But if it is even remotely true that attacks on terrorists just breed more of them, then it must also be true that the sacrificial death of Dimmy Gavriel can breed a generation of others like him. That alone makes him a great man.
At the least, it should remind us all that the comfort and security we know were bought with a bloody price, and that it still takes blood to preserve it. It should also remind us of those ancient words: "Greater love hath no man than this. That a man lay down his life for his friends."
I never knew Dimmy Gavriel, but he made himself my friend. And for that I will always be thankful.
Taylor Armerding may be reached at (978) 946-2213 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2004 The Daily News.