By Robin White Ellis
We are obsessed with superheroes. The recent explosion of movies and merchandise attests to that fact. Why do we have such an interest? There is a beauty and security in the notion of a caped crusader swooping in to save the day…even if he does wear tights. Despite the fashion faux pas, superheroes embody the qualities we yearn to possess. They are brave risk-takers, strong and powerful, yet often with a weakness or flaw that humanizes them. Perhaps those imperfections make us mere mortals feel that we can overcome our own pitfalls to be the protector and savior. Just as Clark Kent is hiding Superman underneath his awkward and clumsy persona, we want to feel that we also are hiding greatness underneath our sometimes dingy and rusty armor.
As an avid fantasy reader, I thrill at the notion of someone small becoming great. Some of our most intriguing fictional heroes are ordinary people, unknown to the world at large. Frodo comes to mind, small and untested, sacrificing his comfortable, happy existence to carry Middle Earth’s greatest threat to destruction, and by doing so, changing the course of his life forever. He exemplifies the characteristics of a hero by being incredibly afraid, yet choosing to plod on, selfless, acting for the good of many over his own needs.
More thrilling than the fantasy is the reality of everyday heroes walking among us. They are in our neighborhoods, our workplaces and our schools. Often, they are sadly overlooked because their contributions are quiet, without celebration or fanfare. True heroes often look nothing like you would imagine, and not just because they forego the spandex tights! Our military, police, firefighters, paramedics, teachers, coaches and nurses…just to name a few…never know what problems or dangers their next challenge will bring, and yet they choose to show up, determined to do right.
Even more telling are the people who become heroes through adversity. They do not choose the events that conspire to cause despair or triumph, but roll with the proverbial punches to make a positive change. I see my teenage daughter keeping up with horrible acts of terrorism, disasters and crime on the news, and it saddens me and causes me to ponder my own childhood. It is ironic that each generation has something so large to fear. For myself, it was school bomb drills for nuclear war. For this age, it is terrorists. My daughter will never understand a world where 9/11 didn’t exist. It can be heart-wrenching, frightening and overwhelming. The media shows horrible images, and while there is indeed importance in that visual truth, I want my child to choose to ever-so-slightly blur her gaze from the horror, and focus on what is surrounding it. She will see people, both in small groups and in droves, working. These people may simply be cleaning up debris, but their goal is much larger. They are removing traces of fear and hate, restoring a place on earth where people live and laugh every day. Nations send support and make speeches and yes, that is important. People themselves, however…they mourn and grieve, but they also show up and offer their all to assist those in need. For every person who hates and destroys, there will be thousands who show up. Therein lies the beauty of humanity, and those are the heroes who will always stand the test of time.