Is a hero a big and strong and beautiful and perfect— a dream; a vision of Arthurian legend; fighting for king and country? Or is a hero one who wanders for twenty years, conquering Trojans and Gods before his journey’s end? What does it mean to be a hero? Have the heroes disappeared with the myths and dreams of forgotten generations?
A hero is moralistic and optimistic—determined and confident—brave and intelligent—and, of course, the hero believes. The hero believes in something greater than himself. Whether that belief is founded in king and country, god and religion, or love and family, the hero has a faith delicately woven into the tapestry that is every fiber of flesh, every drop of blood, every thought he thinks—a faith that creates his spirit and keeps the hero alive.
To live is heroic. Nobody ever said that this was going to be easy—not the bible—not science. God didn’t tell Moses that the ten statements on those two tablets implied an easy life. On the contrary, I believe God said something about sacrifice. And science? Rational, scientific explanations for our existence only confirm the pain and suffering that can sometimes be life. The acknowledgement of life—that’s heroic.
To acknowledge life beyond apathy a hero must first acknowledge himself. Each and every person, every human being, breathes the same oxygen; every one of us has the same physiological make-up; one that allows our hearts to beat and our brains to think; each of us has the ability to be a hero. What we sometimes lack is guidance, focus, and structure. We forget that from the day we our born, we are heroes. There is nothing more heroic than a naked child gazing upon the world with newfound sight welcoming life for the first time. A life that hasn’t been dissuaded by judgement, attacked by prejudice, or assaulted by indifference. A life free of moral ineptitude.
Morals are the nervous system of the hero. They are the neutrons firing in the brain—demanding reaction. And just as no two people are truly alike, neither are two sets of morals. The unifying theme of morality is a quest for truth. A truth that will make righteous the individual and better us as a people. Heroically, we are able to distinguish right from wrong through the virtue of our morals—good from bad—light from dark—love from hate.
There are times though when even the most moral of heroes finds himself in that purgatory between light and dark. This gray area clouds minds, causing a digression to extremes, creating hapless passiveness and frustrated anger. This is when a hero must find a pinhole of light to serve as a guide in a tunnel of darkness. That guide is optimism—acknowledgement of the situation—preparation for the future. Optimism is hope and a hero never loses hope—even in the path of absurdity and impossibility, hope remains as the warm embrace of comfort and continuity during upheaval.
A hero challenged with despair and desperation somehow manages to keep connected the lifeline—the umbilical cord—that feeds hope into life. Perseverance—determination—the drive for continuation and growth—the means to a beginning. Tragedy happens, but so does joy. A hero perseveres. It is through confidence that the hero is able to continue with his journey (life). And it is a belief in the self that makes the hero larger than life—a mythic figure that seems greater than the rest of us, but really, he is one of us. An overpowering belief in the self can generate a strength reserved for the heroes of myths and it is self-confidence that creates legends.
Recently, my mother told me that I was a hero. I’ve never considered myself a hero, not of any sort. Moral and decent, definitely, but not a hero. I saved a life once, when I was fourteen. An act of unintentional heroism? Maybe. But that’s not why my mother called me a hero. She labeled me heroic because of the life I live. I take my bumps and bruises and I chase after my dreams (and those dreams are continually changing). Am I where I once thought I would be? No. No one really is. Not really. The only thing that can ever be counted on is change, and it just depends on how we heroes deal with that change. You’ll never know what it is, but know that it’s coming. And, while things never turn out the way I envision them, I keep moving forward. I keep asking for more.
By Brian Barsuglia