Monthly Archives: January 2014
Recently, I’ve been writing about heroism. We often identify with them because we see in them the character qualities that we would like to see in ourselves. Little boys who dream of being a fire fighter and little girls who dream of being a ‘mama’ are just reflecting their desire to be like those who seem heroic to them. However, as we get older, unless forced, we don’t do much that seems heroic to us. That can cause people (especially men) to compensate by identifying with those who seem ‘more’ heroic (i.e. professional athletes and teams).
Our everyday lives may seem ‘unheroic’ but there are some questions you can ask yourself in pursuit of ‘personal heroism’:
1) What are you fighting for? Whoa! When’s the last time you asked yourself that? If your immediate, internal answer includes the word ‘my’ then take a closer look. Heroes are fighting for a cause; a big picture, life changing, thing. If you’re fighting for something as small as your comfort or your rights, you probably don’t feel very heroic. I know that when I am just focused on my needs I get miserable pretty quick. I often have to remind myself that I am trying to fight for my wife and our marriage, my childrens’ future as productive and caring adults, and the future of my company which provides jobs to thousands of people. You?
2) Who are your enemies? If you’re a soldier or athlete, that can be a simple question…the other guys. For the rest of us, who are we fighting? When my ‘rights’ to sleep in, sit on the couch and watch football, or do what I want to do are trampled on, it’s easy for me to think that my enemies live right under my roof! That can cause some colossal and frustrating fights. When I realize that my main enemy is most likely me and my sense of self-entitlement, I have an internal battle to focus on.
3) How do you fight? Heroes control their emotions and my biggest fight can be to react to what I perceive as battles with love. That frustrating co-worker? They’re going through a tough time at home. If I jump all over them in an argument, I haven’t gained a friend, I’ve created an enemy. The same goes with my family. My son who’s feeling inadequate to do a school project needs love, not a drill sergeant…even if my tendency is drill sergeant.
When you feel like a traitor to yourself or others, assess the situation and answer these questions. In fact, just one question might set you on the path to some pretty heroic actions. Which question would that be for you?
Image courtesy nfl.si.com
I recently finished reading The Steel Wave by Jeff Shaara. It’s historical fiction based on the D-Day landings and subsequent battles in northwest France. The book led me to think a little more about Heroes.
1) Heroes aren’t usually on the side with all of the firepower. When the 1st and 29th Divisions landed at Omaha Beach on 6 June 1944, those men were given the immediate choice of heroism (up the cliff) or cowardice (stay huddled at the bottom). It’s hard to be heroic when you’re expected to win. However when you are evenly matched or especially an underdog, conditions are ripe for heroism.
2) Heroes take care of the helpless. The Allies knew that the French civilians in and around Normandy didn’t ask to be in the middle of an enormous military operation. In addition, they had been under the unkind rule of the Nazis for almost 4 years. So, the soldiers (mostly) took special care not to raid civilian farms, instead eating K and C rations until they were almost repulsed by them. As mentioned in the cinematic masterpiece Spider-Man: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
3) Heroes don’t gain that status by the use of brute force. When presented with a strong enemy position, the airborne troops who landed in the early hours of D-Day couldn’t succeed with a direct frontal assault. They had to look for soft spots in the enemy line or try to get around the end of the enemy positions. Throwing yourself in front of any problem…be it a tank or a cranky infant is just a good way to get rolled over (or puked on).
“So what?”, you might say. I’m not fighting a war or even eating bad food. Well, are you in a position at work where a decision has the support of management but you know that the results could be disastrous? How about in your town…are you helping those around you who don’t have adequate food or clothing…or maybe just need a friend? Is your status at home (as a spouse or parent) based on the power you have to get your way or on the work you do to help others?
If you’re in any of those situations, I think the conditions are right for YOU to be a hero. So how heroic do you feel? Is there someone around you that you can be a hero to today?
A recent business trip gave me the opportunity to watch a couple of movies I’ve wanted to see for a while. 42 is the story of how Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball in 1947. I followed that up with Captain America, a comic-book adaptation about how an ‘average guy’ became a superhero during the Second World War.
As I watched these two films, one based on reality and the other based on fantasy, I thought a lot about what it means to be a hero. I was reminded of some real heroes in my family tree. For example, my grandfather Frank landed at Utah Beach in the first 5 minutes of D-Day. My ‘grandfathers-in-law’ Bob and Bill were injured during the WWII Italy and Normandy campaigns respectively. These men kept the heroic things they had done and seen mostly to themselves because ‘it was what we had to do.’ They were ordinary people who did extraordinary things.
With that in mind, I’d like to give you three things that I think help define heroes…those who get a movie and those who just deserve one.
1) Heroes rarely start out intending to be one. They aren’t looking for fame, fortune, or fun. In fact, one thing that makes them heroic is the fact that they think that what they are doing is nothing special. For me, adults and children who are fighting diseases like cancer are also heroes because…
2) Heroes are willing to die for a cause. Soldiers, police officers, fire fighters…they risk their lives every day to protect others. They place the value of others’ lives above their own. That selfless attitude attracts others to them and their professions. That attractiveness comes in part because…
3) Heroes control their emotions. Bad things happen to all of us but what determines how we respond? Planes strike the World Trade Center and New York’s first responders head toward the disaster, not away…even though all logic plus the fear they were feeling told them to run the other way. Thousands of soldiers boarded boats to cross the English Channel so they could run toward the well-armed strongholds where the Nazis had built modern day castles in expectation of an invasion. Heroes are able to do the exact opposite of what their emotions tell them to do.
Do any of these characteristics of heroes resonate for you? If so, who have you seen them in?
In November, my family suffered a shocking loss. My cousin, Houston St. John, died at 17 years old. Houston’s Dad and my Mom are 2 of 13 siblings born to Rev. E.C. and Lovell St. John. With such a large extended family, we’ve seen our share of drama, divorce, and distance but not much death…especially this young.
As the oldest grandchild, I honestly didn’t spend much time with Houston as he was 21 years younger than me and lived half a country away. However, I do have a few strong memories to share:
Cleveland, Tennessee – It was Christmas time in 1999 or 2000 and Houston was 3 or 4 years old. We were at our Grandmother’s house and Houston had recently discovered the Christian singer Carman. His parents (and, I assume, very patient brother) had endured the whole trip from Kansas to Tennessee watching a ‘live’ concert movie . Houston spent most of the holiday running between rooms expertly mimicking Carman’s moves. At the time, it was good for laughs but we had no idea that it was a precursor to…
Clermont-Ferrand, France – It was my turn to have a small child in the house. Houston had moved from Carmen to Elvis and had recently staged a show at his church where he performed songs and danced. My older son watched that movie over and over from around age 2 to age 5, impressed with a performer that he didn’t know was a relative.
Cleveland, Tennessee – In June of 2011, we came together as a family to celebrate the life of our matriarch, Lovell St. John. Houston and I hadn’t seen each other many times since the ‘Carmen Christmas’ but we enjoyed catching up and sharing our high school choral experiences (his a little more recent than mine). At Lovell’s funeral, we sang What a Lovely Name which, for reasons only understood by preacher’s kids who grew up moving between Virginia and Kentucky understand, is the ‘official’ St. John song. Houston was an excellent singer but he was a little frustrated because he didn’t know all of the words. I assured him that he needed to learn it as we would be singing it at many future family gatherings. How little did I know…
Greenville, South Carolina – On the evening of November 5 my wife was getting one last run in before I left for 10 days and I was getting dinner on the table for our kids. My Mom called with the news that Houston had died that afternoon in a car accident. What a shock. It took a few minutes for me to process it and then tell my sons. It was pretty hard for them to grasp…much as it was for me when my Great Grandfather and Great Uncle died when I was near their age. Several days after the event, I was still asking myself, “Is he really dead?”
Houston had a relatively short life, but a big impact. Over 1300 people attended his memorial service and there are over 10,000 hits on his memorial page. 2014 will be a year of difficult ‘firsts’ for Houston’s family but I think everyone who knew him can take comfort in both the great memories he left and the “huge family reunion with the Master” that we believe Houston will one day be attending.