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We can be heroes. Just for one day

Yup, “Heroes” by David Bowie is one of my all time fave tunes. Haunting and melodious, he tells the story of a couple in love in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. I saw this performed by Bowie here in town a few years back… the crowd was mesmerized.

The best lines are these:

I, I can remember
(I remember)
Standing by the wall
(By the wall)
And the guns, shot above our heads
(Over our heads)
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall
(Nothing could fall)

This leads me to recount an interesting Facebook exchange last night with an old friend from my Trent days (where I did my undergrad degree). I don’t normally copy a FB back and forth onto my blog – pretty lazy, IMHO. But this is an exception because I like the topic.

My bud – let’s call him “Ike – was wondering aloud about what makes a hero and who might they be. He posed his question in the form of a status update:

is thinking about heroes… real ones; not Superman et la… Just been thinking about the incredible people I work on various causes with and that they are the real heroes; and our troops; and our cops; smoke-eaters and EMS eagles…. I’m curious; in the cynical age we live in; do you have any living heroes ? Who are they ?

To which someone immediately came back with examples of a cop, a U.S. Air Force dude and a paramedic. All fine examples of who that particular person considers to fit the mold of hero… but I had to take issue…

Sorry man, we really differ on the whole heroes thing…

My old friend still remembers me well enough that when I am called out on something, I’ll usually take the bait – being the opinionated bastard that I am.

I KNEW you’d call me on this!

Heroes are strangers worthy of my respect because of some act that they have performed. Not that I’m anything special and not that worthy of my respect is above being worthy of someone else’s respect; but you asked.

I am certainly no hero.

Cops. Yup, they will occasionally put their asses on the line. But the bulk of their time is spent hassling folks who dare to question authority. And I’m 47 yrs old and still saying this.

Most of the cops I have know in my adult life have been on ego trips to beat all hell and really don’t give a crap about being heroes more than satisfying their own dominating, macho, misogynist agendas.

Yup, there are exceptions, but I’m speaking from experience.

I’m NOT going to go on about the military because that will just invite flames – not from you, but from others. Let’s just leave it at that. Sure, they are heroes at times… but that’s their job.

Sure – EMS folks – I’ll go with that… but still, that’s their job and what they are paid for – right?

But what about those who are in the shadows and receive not recompense?

Here are some of my heroes:

– The anonymous woman in Sudan who stands in front of the soldiers to protect her kids – after her husband has been murdered in cold blood…
– The anonymous middle-class family in Halifax who spends one day a week delivering food to the elderly
– The anonymous guy on Vancouver’s Lower East Side who brings a thermos of soup to that pathetic dude on the corner who is 15/16th the way to being dead.
– The teen who gives up her weekends to volunteer at the local old folks home… and tells her friends and family that she’s chilling with her friends for fear of being found as uncool…
– The anonymous “anyone” who stands up to authority when authority is wrongly wielded and pays for that defiance. Whether in a Vancouver airport, a ship off the coast of Gaza or at Kent State in the 1960’s.

Go ahead and say that I sound like some rambling hippie. Fair ’nuff. But there are heroes every day and everywhere… and they need not wear a uniform. Though they might.

A couple of commments later, someone else piped in with:

Interesting topic and views. A hero to me is someone who makes a difference; even if it just touches one person’s life or millions. I agree it is every day people. I would not exclude anyone because they are trained/paid to do the job. I cringe when I ask students this question and they can come up with is a sports figure. Great topic!

I couldn’t agree with this more. I guess it may be easier to describe what is NOT a hero rather than what IS one.

For example, are athletes or other celebrities heroes when they do something philanthropic?  Is the hero a researcher who dares to question the common wisdom of his field and endures criticism and ridicule from his peers; but then goes on to make a major technological/medical  breakthrough?

Sure, a cop can be a hero by disarming a bad guy intending to do harm. A firefighter will willingly enter burning building to save a trapped child.  A soldier in Afghanistan can heroically save his comrades and innocents by disarming a bomb or leading a sortie into hostile territory. I’m not saying that these men and women for whom being heroic is part of their c.v. are not heroic, but I am saying that they are not automatically heroes because of their chosen field.

So. Who is your hero? And why?



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  1. I think it’s possible for an athlete to be a hero. Terry Fox was kind of a hero. But all those copycats who biked/walked/rode a giant squid/whatever across Canada, not so much. It was cool of them, but not heroic.

    But run-of-the-mill pro athletes? nah.

  2. Ken says:

    A hero, to me, simply, is someone who does something to benefit others without knowing the benefit to themselves. In other words, they do it without expectation of reward or recognition.

    That’s why athletes, celebrities, et al ARE NOT heroes.

  3. Perhaps it’s because I come from a background of soldiering, but I do not consider soldiers, police, paramedics and so on to be heroes in general. They’re just doing their job. Now, I grant that those are shitty jobs, often dangerous, and definitely able to affect the lives of others… but they’re trained for that, it’s what they want to do. Lumberjack is generally a more dangerous job than any of them and we don’t tend to think of lumberjacks as heroes.

    To me, a hero is someone who goes above and beyond. Like what XUP said below this. A fireman, soldier, cop… they *could* be heroes, but they’d have to do something really special. The private who storms the pillbox single-handedly while wounded and thereby saves his whole unit from destruction… that’s hero work. The fireman who climbs (because the ladders only go to about 8 floors) to the 15th floor of a burning building that is soon to collapse to save a child… that’s hero work. The child who keeps a happy outlook in the face of imminent death by some horrible disease… that’s hero work.

    A hero not only has to be brave, but they must achieve something. So standing up to wrongly wielded authority, for example, is not hero worthy necessarily. Sometimes, being brave just makes you a dumbass. Getting your ass kicked for the sake of getting your ass kicked might seem brave and heroic but really it’s just stupid unless you can achieve something by it. Martyrs are seldom heroes in my book.

    I guess, to me, a hero has to do something positive that helps others, AND do something that goes well above and beyond the expectations of their position in life.

  4. XUP says:

    My daughter is my hero because of the courage and dignity with which she carried herself through years and years of some pretty gruesome medical stuff. Whenever I felt like I was sinking into despair over it all I only had to look at her bravely carrying on, determined to live as normal a life as possible and being so supportive and empathetic of other kids sicker than she.

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