​"Can you reach it?"

A good Samaritan attempted last week to save what he thought was a man hanging from a roof but turned out to be a recreation of a classic Christmas movie scene.


Alfred Norwood Jr. jumped out of his ​car upon spotting a dummy hanging from the roof of Austin, Texas resident Chris Heerlein's home. 


Heerlein had recreated a famous scene from 1989's "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" in which Clark Griswold, played by Chevy Chase, dangles from the gutters of his house after a misbegotten attempt at hanging Christmas lights for his family.

Norwood approached the home, placed a ladder under the mannequin, and repeatedly shouted, "Can you reach it?" He eventually ran back to the street to contact police, who had received several calls from citizens concerned about the man hanging from the roof.


Heerlein, who later saw footage of the incident via his Nest camera, tracked down Norwood to clarify the mix-up and thank him for his efforts.


"The thing was out there only one day, and Alfred was running to save this man's life," Heerlein ​told CNN. "Alfred is a veteran and it was his instinct. He was the only one who jumped out and tried to help."


"Ultimately it's awesome that in this day and age there's a real quality human being out there," Heerlein added. "He's a hero in one sense. He was willing to jump out and run to the rescue and a lot of people didn't. It shows the true heart of the guy."


There is no shortage of cultural commentators who have lamented the loss of community in America. Nor is there a shortage of scholars who have documented the tragic effects that loss of community -- manifested as an America divided along spiritual, ​political, geographic, and ​ideological lines -- has had on the country.

“People divorced from community, occupation, and association are first and foremost among the supporters of extremism," wrote Harvard professor Robert Putnam in "Bowling Alone," his seminal work on American community.


But Norwood's delightfully mistaken act of kindness shows that a sense of American community and care for fellow citizens hasn't been entirely extinguished.

CNN reported that when Heerlein met Norwood, a veteran of the US Air Force who was struggling to come up with enough money for food, he thanked him for his service and gave him a $500 gift card to buy groceries.


Juan Leon is a Pluralist founding editor. He can be reached @juanemel


Cover Image: A mannequin hangs from Chris Heerlein's home in Austin, Texas. Heerlein recreated a scene from "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." (Screenshot from Twitter).