The Issue of Heroes by Joy Preble

Like a few others in this blogging collective, I met the topic of heroes with not a little trepidation. What do I say? Who are my heroes? Do I have heroes? Is the entire concept outdated? Is there anything I can say--"it's my son!" "It's my mom!" "It's my husband!" "It's Buffy!"-- sound even vaguely authentic and not overused or cliched? I had to think about this one.

So I read this, from the Smithsonian.

Basically, it says that everyone of us has the potential to be a hero. I'm still not sure what I think about it. I think sometimes you have to rise to the occasion and you just never know until the moment occurs.

So I kept pondering. I have lots and lots of people I admire. But my mind was still coming up blank when I tried to figure out which if any of them are my heroes.

Which I suppose is fairly lame since as a former English teacher, I've spent a lot of years talking about heroes in literature and presenting hero charts and reading hero essays. Traditional heroes and tragic heroes and reluctant heroes and anti-heroes and epic heroes and super heroes and on like that. Which one is Beowulf? Which one is Macbeth? How about McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest? Luke Skywalker? Katniss Everdeen? Tris from Divergent?

Tragic heroes twisted my heart but a part of me was always like, "Oedipus. Dude. Maybe before it gets to the point of gouging your eyes out perhaps you ought to think things through." The anti-heroes (like McMurphy in Cuckoo's Nest, mentioned above) held me a bit stronger. I'm fascinated by the idea that someone who really is in it for him/herself might end up doing the right thing because it turns out to be the only thing.

I think now that the whole thing was skewed. So many men on those fictional lists. So few women. so little diversity in the books the curriculum required. The subtext was perhaps more educational than all the rest. And yet I still believe in an education in the classics, however we choose to define that. I still believe that we have to root out the origin stories.

Real life -- it's a complicated beast.  Am I hero because I survive when someone shoots me for trying to get an education in a country that doesn't want its women educated and I survive and thrive? Am I a hero because I am a firefighter who runs up those steps into the World Trade Center knowing that I must save lives but will perhaps lose my own? Am I hero because I speak my mind in this wild and frightening political season? Am I a hero because I work two jobs or three to take care of my family and make sure my kids have everything they need? Or tend an aging parent? Or a friend with cancer? Sacrifice usually goes hand in hand with heroism, but that isn't all of it and I don't even know sitting here typing this morning if that's the most important part. With due apology to its fans, I was never fond of where Tris was headed. To quote Washington, speaking to a certain AH in Hamilton: "Dying's easy. Living is harder."

In the end, it's about what it means to be human. About what it means to do the right thing and block out the noise and think, think, think. Sometimes it's about not thinking. It's about just doing. It's about understanding and accepting that, to paraphrase (or maybe I'm quoting-- it's early and I'm too lazy to click over and look it up) Whitman-- that we contain multitudes. Including the people we deem heroic. Some of what they do will totally suck. But when it's time, she will see us and hear us and do something about it. (Note the pronoun? We gotta do something about English pronouns but that's a story for another time.)

Okay. Time for coffee.