I have mixed feelings about the concept of what a hero actually is. I believe that in our society we have a propensity to place on a pedestal people for worship for all the wrong reasons. Not because they’ve done something really heroic, but simply because they’ve done something challenging or compelling or out of the ordinary. I remember several years back there was a soldier who got lost in Kosovo or somewhere near there, and survived in the wilderness for several days drinking rain water and eating berries before being rescued. When he returned to civilization he became an overnight sensation. The media lauded him as a hero of immense proportions, and he suddenly morphed into someone I think even he knew he was not.
You could tell in interviews he was almost embarrassed about the media reaction to his story, because to him, he was just doing what he’d been trained to do: survive in the wild if need be. He didn’t save a 100 people from a burning village, he didn’t toil in obscurity to discover the cure to a ghastly and deadly disease. He didn’t adopt children with severe physical or mental disabilities. He simply used his training to survive until someone was able to rescue him. Good for him—it’s great that he was able to do that. But heroic? Not in my book.
Of course in our culture, the ultimate heros are sports stars. Why innate physical ability translates to hero status will forever escape me. In the same vein I will never quite understand why a talentless publicity monger like Paris Hilton is considered a celebrity, or why anyone cares a whit about the daily transgressions of Britney Spears, who seems to be simply a broken soul desperately in need of repair. But throw an amazing touchdown in the last ten seconds of the big game, earn enough gold medals in the Olympics, hit a record number of home runs (even if you cheat to achieve that goal), and your name is in the annals of time as yet one more jock at whose altar hundreds of thousands (maybe even millions) of people will supplicate. I don’t know, maybe people desperately need heroes, and they’ll find them wherever then can.
To me, heroes are often the most mundane of people: those undereducated, underprivileged people who have to work three jobs to just to meet the rent and feed their children. Who could easily throw in the towel because it’s too damned hard, but instead they keep going because that’s what you do. And heroes are people who smile through yet one more chemotherapy treatment, despite their pain and suffering; volunteer crazy hours to keep an animal shelter operating; deliver food on a daily basis to shut-ins; tend to refugees in squalid conditions in third world nations; fight our battles for us (even if they don’t believe in them) in broken-down war zones throughout the world (and while they’re there demonstrating simple human kindesses to people most in need of that).
Most of the time people perform these acts of grace and selfless generosity without recognition, without adulation, and without compensation. They do it because it’s the right thing to do, and because they can.
Those are the real heroes, in my estimation.
Now who are your heroes?
—by Jenny Gardiner