Thursday, May 7, 2009

Lately i've been thinking a lot about what it means to be a hero.

Lately i've been thinking a lot about what it means to be a hero. Definition: hero (male) and heroine (female) came to refer to characters (fictional or historical) that, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, display courage and the will for self sacrifice – that is, heroism – for some greater good, originally of martial courage or excellence but extended to more general moral excellence.

People have told me that my wife and I are heroes for the way we take care of disabled daughter Shira and our regular son Sammy. I don't feel like a hero I just feel like a father that doesn't want to loose his child to a horrible terminal disease. Some people believe a hero is someone that has overcome great odds and persevered against great odds. Does this mean the people that survived the Titanic are heroes while those that died are not? Are the survivors of the Holocaust heroes while those that died at the hands of Nazi Germany not heroes? Not long ago I watched a show about American War Heroes. The subject of the show was to figure out what separated these heroes from the regular population of people. None of the heroes interviewed felt like heroes and none of them could explain why they put themselves in mortal danger sacrificing themselves for the good of others. A wave of selflessness took these heroes over making them act putting their comrades lives ahead of their own.

Since our daughter's diagnosis (with Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 1) I have met hundreds of families that "go beyond the call of duty" to care for their children. Is there a limit as to how much effort, time, money etc. they should put into their children? Is there a limit as to how far one should go to insure the safety of another human being? The great child advocate June Collwood said, "If you see an injustice being committed, you aren't an observer, you are a participant." Are the men and woman that save people during times of genocide like the holocaust in the second world war, Ruwanda, Serbia Croatia War, or the current African conflicts heroes? Shouldn't saving people from harm be the norm not the exception?

A few years ago when a bridge collapsed in Minneapolis we saw acts of heroism by passersby saving people trapped underwater in cars, on the bridge, near the bridge etc. I started to wonder if these heroes were also heroes in their daily lives or were their actions to act and climb down a collapsed unstable bridge just a primal reaction of the moment?

It's my opinion that there are different levels of acting in heroic ways and that heroism is in fact subjective. Those that act heroically only to gain fame or monetary reward is the lowest level of heroism; their actions are still heroic but the actions are offset by their own personal needs.
For me the true heroes are: the woman living down the street that has cared for her disabled daughter for 46 years, the parents who care for children with life threatening illness at home and spend all their time insuring their regular children live full lives, or as Christopher Reeves put it, ""When the first Superman movie came out, I gave dozens of interviews to promote it. The most frequently asked question was: "What is a hero?" I remember how easily I'd talk about it, the glib response I repeated so many times. My answer was that a hero is someone who commits a courageous action without considering the consequences. A soldier who crawls out of a foxhole to drag an injured buddy back to safety, the prisoners of war who never stop trying to escape even though they know they may be executed if they're caught. And I also meant individuals who are slightly larger than life: Houdini and Lindbergh of course, John Wayne and JFK, and even sports figures who have taken on mythical proportions, such as Babe Ruth or Joe DiMaggio. Now my definition is completely different. I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles. The fifteen-year-old boy down the hall at Kessler who had lannded on his head while wrestling with his brother, leaving him paralyzed and barely able to swallow or speak. Travis Roy, paralyzed in the first eleven seconds of a hockey game in his freshman year at college. Henry Steifel, paralyzed from the chest down in a car accident at seventeen, completing his education and working on wall street at age thirty two, but having missed so much of what life has to offer. These are real heroes, and so are the families and friends who have stood by them."

For me heroes are: those that have a choice to act or not act selflessly and choose to act in such a way as to give of themselves to a greater good other than themselves, and those that over come great personal obstacles becoming examples to others. A greater good can be something as small as giving up a vacation so that your kids can go to camp or crossing the street just to help someone needing help .

Two weeks ago Help Fill A Dream was at our home erecting a playground in our back yard that was donated to our daughter so that she could play with other children and her brother. The men that showed up on their own time, on a Saturday to spend 7 hours working just so our daughter, whom they had never met, could have more happiness in her life. These men are HEROES!!

Everyone really does have the potential and capacity to be a hero because heroism is not measured by the type of action but by acting solely for the better good of someone else beyond ones self!

The other day I ran across a quote by Ghandi that really described how each of us could live a selfless heroic life.

"I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. Will he [she] gain anything by it? Will it restore him [her] to a control over his [her] own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?
Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away."
- Ghandi

Every day I meet more and more people and get to hear their stories of heroism. Their stories inspire me to “Let myself melt away” by reaching out to other’s in need. It is my hope that this little article is not taken as holier than thou but as siren call stirring the hero potential within all of us!


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