I’ve been thinking about heroes a lot lately.
We all have heroes. People, or fictional characters we idolize, look up to, and emulate. My hero is my mom, because of her ability to love, and accept, her compassion, patients, and selflessness. Those are things I wish I had more of. When I was little I thought those were the worst traits to have, because she was SO giving, and sometimes people took advantage of that. We all have heroes, and those people are our heroes for different reasons, but it’s something we all have in common.
In our society it’s often common place to talk openly about heroes, or someone who posses heroic traits, or has preformed a heroic deed. Such as a member of the military putting their life on the line for their country, or a firefighter who saved a child from a burning building. But there are even smaller heroes who walk among us everyday. Such as the kid who stands up to the bully, or a person coming forward who witnessed a crime. Those might be small acts but to the people the actions effect those are huge.
One day, about four years ago, I was back in my hometown visiting, during a college break. I went down to my old high school to say hi to friends I still had there and annoy teachers I use to have daily. After their classes were let out one of my very dear friends and I had the most interesting of conversations. We started by exchanging life events, such as he had his first girlfriend, and some of my adventures at college, how I was into Ultimate frisbee now and how he and his girlfriend were on the same Co-Ed Ultimate Frisbee team. The conversation took an interesting turn when he told me I was his hero. That I was someone he looked up to, and wanted to live his life more like me.
I didn’t know how to respond. How do you respond to that? I think I said something along the lines of “oh, that’s cool”-or something just as stupid. How could anyone know how to respond to that? We always talk about our heroes, but how do the heroes feel about being given such a title? Saying good-bye to my friend, I was still in a state of shock. How could I be anyone’s hero? He said I was his hero because I lived my life according to my own set of values, and I didn’t let anyone pressure me, I stood up for people, and myself. That I was his hero because he saw me as being fearless.
To me that’s just being me, I don’t deem myself as heroic material, but he did. I guess I should have known somehow that he looked up to me, but I didn’t see him as an underclassmen, or as someone beneath me, I saw him as a friend, an equal. The year before he had been a freshmen, when I was a senior. He saw me stand up for some kids who were picked on, show them kindness, and offer friendship. He saw me have a good time while staying true to myself, and finding people who respected my choices. He saw me confront rumors, and take them down, he saw every action I did that year because we were the best of friends.
I didn’t know I had such an impact on him. And after he told me, I felt bad for not knowing it sooner. In some ways I felt guilt, that I was this thing to him and he wasn’t to me because I never thought that way. I wouldn’t have changed, but maybe I would have put distance between us, because I don’t want the title of hero. I just wanted the title of friend. Walking away from him that day, I could never not know how he thought of me, and it took courage to tell me, which I deeply respect. But even four years later I think about if I’m doing a good job of being his hero, if I’m worthy. And what if I’m not? What if something has changed. Do I want to know that?
What do the societal heroes think? How do the deal with that pressure? Especially if they are an athlete or celebrity. Sure they can say they aren’t a hero, that’s not what they are there for, but that doesn’t stop people from idolizing them, and that pressure of thousands (even millions) adds up. I think I would crumble. Because the truth is, we are all human, and flawed. Even though my friend saw me in this perfect light, I’m not, I could never be. I’m just good at being myself.
(That year and the following one I actually dealt with a ton of stuff, but I’m not very vocal about problems, I usually just deal with them, so my friends didn’t really know what was going on. Which is what I preferred, when I was with them, I just wanted to have a good time, enjoy their company.)
I’ve never told anyone that story, and it makes me wonder how many people are told they are someone’s hero. I wonder if my emotions and reactions are similar to someone who has also been told they were someone’s hero. I also wonder if the feeling of wonder will ever drift away or if I’m stuck wondering about heroism with questions unanswered. I’m hoping writing this all down will get it out of my brain, and into the universe for it to sort out.