Modern society seems to find it tough to find heroes. Instead of turning to the saints, we often look to celebrities (who often aren’t real heroes) or to superheroes (who often aren’t real).
Where can we find heroes for ourselves and for the next generation? In an almost hero-less society, we can’t go about it in a haphazard way.
I like the suggestion Wendy Shalit made (she’s the author of A Return to Modesty, if the name sounds vaguely familiar but you can’t put a finger on it). She says “we must all somehow, step up and become heroes for one another.”
So often, we can look for role models but Shalit’s comment reminds us that if we want heroes or role models for adults and for kids, we ourselves need to become those people.
The problem with being a hero, especially an everyday hero, is that that concept is hard to define and pin down. But I can give you a few examples of hidden heroes I’ve known in my life.
I remember a young man in my high school who went around in an electric wheelchair because he had a debilitating medical condition. He didn’t just show up to school, though; he went the extra mile to try and help out the rest of us. Whenever you met him, he would smile and say hello to you personally by name. I don’t know how he memorized all the names of 1,100 students — he definitely had a better memory for that than I did. Eventually, when we were seniors, we both ended up on Student Council. He was the president. Years later, my memory of him had largely faded, but a few months back someone shared a video of a talk on how Canada’s new euthanasia law would be detrimental for the disabled – and I recognized the speaker as this guy from high school. He’s a hero because he overcame great difficulties to help others and continues doing so.
When I was in college, I was active in the campus Catholic club. As part of “faith week” there was a round table discussion on homosexuality and religion. I’d volunteered to present the Catholic position of loving the person while at the same time calling them to conversion if they are actively engaged in homosexual acts. One of the older and quieter students in the Catholic club, who was in grad school, pulled me aside to mention how he had no sexual attraction to women but had decided to live a chaste single Christian life. He didn’t make a big scene about it. He was a hero in living chastity as the Church suggests. He wasn’t dedicating his life to Church ministry; his life work was making the first full dictionary of a certain native language, to assist a group of native Canadians in maintaining their language and culture.
When I was working in Ohio, I remember a couple who were heroes. After having four children, they decided to adopt three more kids. They didn’t wait and look for babies with no problems but adopted the kids most in need. Now that they are in their 60s, their youngest is just becoming a teenager. They are heroes because they kept being generous as parents when their natural fertility ended.
In high school I also knew a young woman who was 5’4″ tall but who could probably beat me up as she was highly trained in martial arts. For months, I judged her. I saw her and her boyfriend together all the time as she slowly took on clear signs of being pregnant. I thought, “at least it’s good they didn’t have an abortion.” Later on I found out that while at a martial arts tournament, one of the young males (“men” is too much for this type) had raped her. She carried the baby to term and gave him up for adoption. She absolutely despised the idea of being called the hero, as she really wished she could’ve kept the baby, but I still think of her as a hero.
If we want to build a society of virtue, a Christian society we need to have a society where there are heroes who exemplify what we are called to be. Right now we live in a “hero-less” society, so the only way for there to be heroes is if we become them.
[Editor’s Note — Take the poll: Have you noticed everyday heroes?