Friday, July 2, 2010

Holding Out For A Hero

    This whole idea of a hero has been on my mind lately.  Are there any heroes in today's world?  Before drawing any conclusions, I have to define hero.  A hero is not to be confused with a person who performs an heroic deed.  To act heroically in the moment is commendable but to be a hero involves more than momentary action.  So what would that look like?
    As my dear friend and confidant Megan Rooney noted a hero is courageous.  As she also pointed out courage cannot to be confused with fearlessness.  Courage means the ability to confront fear, pain, uncertainty, danger in the face of hardship, suffering, or even death in order to benefit the greater good.  A person with moral courage is able to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, or discouragement.  Fearlessness isn't quite so noble in my mind. Danger may be confronted but the motivation behind the action is more egocentric as opposed to community based.
Uncle Frank
    So, a hero must show courage in some aspect of his or her life.  My father's courage in the face of WWII has always impressed me.  He was a 19 year old boy and he went off to places remote and scary (the South Pacific).  With very little training, his assignment was  to fix the bodies of friends and others who had been blown up (he was a medic).  I can't imagine how frightened he must have been and yet he went and did what he believed to be right.  My wonderful and loving friend Frank Schiavo showed tremendous moral courage in the way he lived his life.  Frank put his care for the environment above anything else.  He LIVED environmentalism and could tell you the why and how of everything environmental.  It wasn't easy to live modern life Frank's way but he resisted so many of the popular trends in favor of a life style that would sustain the planet.
    I think a hero also has integrity but integrity is tough to assess.  A person with integrity has the courage to say no and to face the truth.  He or she does the right thing because it IS the right thing to do.  Again, referring to Frank, he was a man of integrity.  He lived his life very honestly and openly.  He had strong beliefs about the right way to live and he stuck with them even when I am sure it was a hard thing to do. From what I have read and seen about Fred Rogers he was a man of pure integrity.  He had strong beliefs about what was in the best interests of children and he worked hard to make that happen.   He could laugh at himself and the caricatures that SNL and others made of him but he knew what was right for kids.  I am sure his intentions might have been questioned for a variety of reasons but he was steadfast in making media healthy and  tender for small children.
    A hero also inspires others to strive to be the best they can be.  By their words and actions, heros encourage other people to become more courageous, more compassionate, more deeply involved with the world, no matter how small or how complicated that world might be.  Christopher Reeve and Gilda Radner come to my mind when I think of inspiring people.  Both of these young celebrities were handed tragic surprises by the universe and yet they turned those tragic circumstances into something that has inspired and benefited so many other people.  Both Gilda and Christopher wrote about their afflictions and how their lives were dramatically changed and their words and actions have made a huge difference to many other people.  Michael J Fox is doing that now.  I read Michael's book Lucky Man when it first came out in 2003.  Prior to reading his memoir, I assumed he was another rich celebrity with questionable integrity (my cynical nature showing through).  However, my assumptions were shattered after reading that book. I now eagerly listen to Michael when he speaks or writes because I trust him.  His experiences and his attitude about his life make me want to be a better person.  There's a hero for you.
    I still need to ponder this for a while - I want to get it right.  I have answered that earlier question:  are there still heroes today?  Yes, I would say that my heroes include (but are not limited to)  all of the people mentioned above.  But this doesn't really feel finished.  It is as if I am missing something.  What about the notion that a hero has something much bigger than his or her own self as their driving force?  And what are the avenues that create heroes?  With the exception of Frank Schiavo and Fred Rogers, the people I referenced above  had the opportunity of being a hero thrust upon them.  They were just going along doing their lives when something disrupted their plans.  It is what they did, how they handled the disruption that made the difference.  Mr. Schiavo and Mr. Rogers made choices and acted on their beliefs.  To advocate and watch over something of value made them heroes.  They weren't given a disruption to direct their stewardship.  They chose to take a harder path and that choice elevated them to heroes in my opinion.  I am seeing that heroes do take on something bigger than themselves, if only to allow themselves to find meaning in tragedy.  What else am I missing?

       Saint or hero?  That's another conundrum -- I prefer hero.  Saint feels all perfect all the time.  Hero feels more human, more not perfect just struggling to get it - something - right.  I would rather hang out with heroes than saints!

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