What makes a hero? Is it physical strength, the force to vanquish any foe? Is it force of will, the power to compel others to stand aside? Is it intelligence, the ability to out think the opponent? Are these characteristics of what we've come to call heroes? To look at television, movies, and most of the world today, that seems to be the case.
Or is it something else?
What makes a hero? Is it strength of character, the power to inspire others to stand by your side? Is it bravery, the force to stand against any foe? Is it compassion, the ability to think beyond simply destroying, but to also create, turning enemies to friends? Is there more? Justice- the ability to stop evil and terror, without giving in to vengeance? Mercy- the power of forgiveness? Humility- the gift of understanding and equality? These traits don't often get much mention nowadays, but this feels right, doesn't it?
What makes a hero? The label seems easily applied, but often to the least-deserving, or without real thought given to understanding why we use that word. Growing up, my "heroes" were guys like Stallone and Schwarzenegger,characters like Batman and Wolverine (characters all, really). Overly-muscled, comic-book-style forces of destruction, force-feeding a simplistic world-view (Us-Good; Them-Bad) to the rest of the globe, and I reveled in it. It was fun to beat up the bad guys, right? I never gave any thought whatsoever to why they were called 'heroes'; I just assumed they had the qualities that made one a hero, and left it at that. Nowadays, in the land of world-weary, jaded and otherwise disenchanted Americans, heroes have become thugs and addicts disguised as musicians, athletes who behave no better than gang members, and people who have done nothing to deserve attention other than to be born rich. Hey, at least my heroes fought the bad guys.
Luckily for us, if we have the clarity of vision to see it, heroes are all around us. So much has changed in my life in the past years and decades; so much has changed in your lives, too. Heroes are everywhere. There are people with the strength of character to stand up and disagree with everyone around them, to argue their ideas with grace and understanding, and who stand by their convictions. There are people with the compassion to walk amidst the worst of humanity in the hopes of bringing out in others the best of humanity, people who do these things with no expectations of reward, but who do these things because they cannot imagine doing otherwise. There are the folks who quietly go through their lives making better the lives of those around them, with a gentle touch, a well-chosen word, or just a smile. There are the men and women who stand in the line of danger, whether it be from fire, disaster, or their fellow man, they stand firm for what they know to be right. There are those who go and fight and die and heal and rebuild and save for no better nor worse reason than their country asks it of them. How easy it is to imagine dying for a person you know; how impossible to imagine dying for an entire country of strangers. Imagine, if you can, putting yourself in harm's way for an ideal. Can you? I don't know that I can- but luckily for all of us, there are men and women throughout the country who can and do. Heroes are everywhere.
My heroes have changed somewhat in the past 20-plus years; gone are my friends Sly and Arnold, so long Bats and Wolvie. Nowadays, my heroes are the people who inspire me, the ones who make me want to be a better person. My heroes are the folks who speak their minds, but listen to a different point of view. My heroes are the ones who give of themselves without asking in return. My heroes are the ones who sacrifice so we don't have to. My heroes are the ones who keep it together when everything else is falling apart. I have a long list of heroes, but the top of the list is reserved for two people, of course: my Mom and Dad. They're the ones who gave me something to aspire to, and they're the ones whose examples I hope to live up to. A guy could do worse for heroes, no?
So, this Fourth of July, when you're chowing down on burgers and hot dogs, watching the fireworks go kaboom, and hanging out with your friends, take a look around- like I said, heroes are everywhere.
A hero is one who runs forward when everyone else runs away.
See you next week- let's say Wednesday, okay?