In the minds of those both young and old, the term, ”hero” seems to generate a variety of images spanning from superstar athletes to flamboyant actors and actresses to the newest host of the latest and greatest reality show. Heroes. Some say there are many to look up to these days; while others say there are only a few.
One early morning, while flying to Pittsburgh, I had a layover at Chicago’s Midway Airport. Not having eaten breakfast yet, I pulled up a stool at Harry Caray’s Restaurant en route to the Southwest Airlines terminal. It was hard concentrating on the breakfast menu with the echo of conversations all around me, not including the various voices of history resounding throughout the joint; hanging neatly and evenly on every wall around me were photograph after photograph of ball players, local celebrities, and politicians—all signed and matted in decorative frames. As if I weren’t already over-stimulated enough, my attention was also being drawn to the four plasma televisions positioned strategically throughout the restaurant.
One television was tuned to a network covering advances in the space program; another was highlighting the upcoming Tour de France. A third television was covering breaking news in politics, centered around the recent elections; and the TV in the far right corner of the restaurant was tuned to a story debating the issue of steroid usage in professional sports. I had just experienced a hard enough time choosing the pancakes over the French toast—now I was faced with deciding which program to watch.
As I sat there, glancing back and forth between the televisions, it was hard not to notice others doing the same. Back and forth, back and forth…one story to the next. That seemed to be the common exercise of all those trying to grab a quick bite to eat. “Another fast-paced day with information overload,” I mumbled quietly under my breath as I poured syrup evenly across my stack of hotcakes.
As I began to eat, something else caught my attention. Up at the cash register, spelled out in large white block letters was the word “HEROES” stretched across the back of a man’s shirt. Underneath the letters was a long list of the names of each fallen firefighter who sacrificed his or her life on 9/11. In that somber moment, I asked myself, “Who are the heroes of today?”
According to the stories spilling over from each of the televisions, “heroes” or better yet, idols and/or champions, are apparently quite prevalent these days. At least that is how it seems to be presented on most television networks, in numerous electronic stories posted in cyber space, and throughout the pages of various magazines and newspapers.
Webster defines a hero as someone admired for their achievements and noble qualities; an object of extreme admiration and devotion. I have to admit that many sports heroes such as Michael Jordan and Peyton Manning are remarkable. Their perseverance, discipline, and pure guts are rightly noted. Then there are the courageous astronauts who’ve lived with the deep passion of exploration and discovery throughout their lives. And although not all politicians and activists are best described as heroes, there are an uncountable many that have stood on their core beliefs and principles, and they can definitely wear the title of “hero.”
However, as I sat there and reflected, it quickly became more evident to me that many of our real “heroes” have never graced the front cover of a magazine nor had a press conference held in their honor. People who may not have access to great wealth or material possessions, nonetheless, have become heroes due to their enormous hearts. Because we don’t personally know their names, these “heroes” don’t seem to be as recognized; however, they are surrounding us every day.
The hospice worker who prepares a family for a loved one’s death; a school teacher who spends countless hours instructing our future generations; the men and women who so proudly wear the uniforms of our armed forces and place themselves in the midst of harm’s way each and every day; community action groups who ensure people aren’t discriminated against in the workforce; young kids who join together to raise money for relief efforts when natural disasters hit; victim advocates who work tirelessly for justice; every human being who has ever gone out of his or her way to be kind to the lonely, less fortunate, and beaten down. The way I see it, these people are “heroes,” too. Maybe they’re not front and center but I believe that the names of these brave people belong in the same sentence as those icons whose stories spill from the television screen.
Who are the heroes of today? I’m of the opinion that we all have heroic qualities. Just think of the opportunities we are afforded on a daily basis. Think of all of the times when common courtesy is called for. Mix in some common sense and help others who need it. It may be something as simple as helping a colleague who drops a stack of papers on the floor, or allowing the people seated in front of you to exit the plane first— not rushing past them. Holding the door for someone trying to get to the elevator; offering your place in line at the grocery store if you notice someone in a rush; helping others avoid road rage and allowing them to merge….oh, please allow other motorists to merge.
Some may wonder what these things have to do with heroes. I would answer that true heroes answer the call, both big and small. Their inner-qualities hold them to the greatest level of accountability—both when people are watching and when they’re not. As long as there is air to breathe, each and every one of us has the distinct pleasure of serving others “heroically.” For it’s this kind of action that has the greatest impact on mankind.Of course, news organizations will continue to focus on the superstars and the not-so-super stars. In the end though, each of us will be remembered for our contribution to the world and its people. While I finished my meal and paid my tab, I was reminded of the idea that we all possess the potential to be a hero. As I walked out of the restaurant thinking of the impact that I can have on others, I couldn’t help but notice the name on the door and say to myself, “Holy Cow!”