Janice Byrd of McKinney: Anonymous heroesI admire the unsung doers of selfless deeds
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Stories about the Virginia Tech teachers and students who risked their own safety to secure their classroom doors against a madman with a gun started me thinking again about what it means (and doesn't mean) to be a hero. Are heroes born brave? Do they have extraordinary talents? Is a role model a hero, or could anyone – even me – be a hero?
In the past I was more likely to call exceptional athletes heroes, but steroids and other scandals have all but eliminated sports heroes for me. Extraordinary skills, abilities and intellect, even when put to good use, do not necessarily make someone a hero in my book.
We all know individuals who have made a positive impact on our lives – a parent, grandparent, teacher, spouse or a friend who has forever changed our life's course. On a larger scale, there are the scientists, inventors, doctors and researchers who have made a difference in countless lives through their profession. However, as inspiring as their service and contributions are, people of influence are not necessarily my heroes.
Some people are determined, persistent achievers who succeed in spite of enormous obstacles. Their lives are the stuff of legends and emotional movies. Even if they eventually fail in their endeavors, we champion their efforts and proclaim their heroism. They are larger-than-life characters who elicit our empathy and compassion. But, are people who "try hard" heroes?
For me, another element is crucial in the making of a hero. It is not enough to be in the right place at the right time with the right skills. My heroes are not "accidental heroes." They are people who deliberately decide to put aside their own well-being, desires, plans and sometimes even risk their lives for the sake of someone else.
Literature is filled with stories of such ordinary people. In real life, however, my heroes do not usually make the headlines; they do not die in the process of being a hero. Their sacrifice is unacknowledged, and that's all right with them because they do not expect glory or a reward.
We're all capable of being such a hero on occasion, but how often do you see people voluntarily giving up their rights or privileges for someone else? Even making small sacrifices that cost very little – like a place in line, an hour of leisure, or a personal possession – are rare occurrences today.
When it comes to denying oneself a career to take care of an invalid parent or a small child, heroes are even fewer and farther between. Giving up a comfortable environment in order to live and work in a Third World country, as missionaries do, relinquishing the financial rewards of one's education to help the poor, or risking death to rescue someone are rarer still.
The woman who chooses to give up her baby for adoption, as opposed to aborting an unplanned pregnancy, is my hero. A parent who enforces his child's discipline despite the inconvenience to himself is my hero. A student who takes an after-school job to help her family survive is my hero. Jerry Moore, the man who recently pulled his 92-year-old neighbor out of a burning house in West Dallas, is my hero.
Heroes aren't perfect people who never act out of selfish motives. Most of the time these would-be-heroes walk around looking like Clark Kent, and then a selfless decision transforms them into a superhero. I can't believe that kind of self-sacrifice comes out of the blue. It takes a lot of practice to make the consideration of others a way of life. Courtesy, self-discipline and humility may not sound very exciting or heroic, but they are the harbingers of everyday heroism.
Janice Byrd of McKinney is library director of the First Baptist Church of McKinney, a book performer and a Voices of Collin County volunteer columnist. Her e-mail address is Janice@JaniceByrd.com.