At different moments in our lives, we witness incredible acts of fortitude and selflessness, which forever change us. The recent events in Ukraine bring to light the heroism of its president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as he stands his ground with courage and grit, in a country besieged by overwhelming Russian forces. At times, our gaze is diverted from Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people, as the impact of their fight frightens even the bravest of us. They are putting their lives at risk through their dedication and service.
By way of comparison and using another Ukrainian reference, following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, twenty-eight workers died of acute radiation syndrome within a few weeks. The stories of heroic efforts surround natural and human-made disasters often feel distant, yet one does not need to look beyond Covid-19 and the pandemic to see real life workers in the medical, caring, and hospitality fields rising to new heights.
Tom Brokaw, in "The Greatest Generation", celebrated a generation of heroes who grew up in the United States during the depression, and then went on to fight in World War II or serve the country on the home front.
We are introduced to the "hero" at a very early age. Fairy tale and comic book heroes and heroines fill us with wonder and amazement. The dragon is slayed, Sleeping Beauty awakens, and the village lives happily ever after. We are drawn to the hero as someone to idolize and amaze. The ongoing phenomenon of superhero movies points to our continued need for belief in something bigger and better, to provide safety, security, and hope.
Joseph Campbell dedicated his professional life to the mythical hero. In his public television series with Bill Moyers, "The Power of Myth", as well as in his book, "The Hero with a Thousand Faces", Campbell described similarity in the journey of the hero throughout history and throughout cultures. The power of the formula is captured in Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and The Odyssey, where the hero is called, adversity is overcome, and the hero returns home.
Keep in mind, Campbell describes seventeen steps, culminating in Freedom to Live, where mastery leads to freedom from fear of death, which leads to freedom to live in the moment. There are many crossroads within these seventeen steps, which provide for wonderful storytelling, and incredible lessons for those of us on our own trek to learning and enlightenment.
The hero does not need to rise to a mythical level, of course. We find our heroes wherever we can, as we long to put someone on the pedestal, as an example of what is possible. For those who love sports, we relish the Michael Jordan performance in 1997, in the championship series with the Utah Jazz, where Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to victory, despite suffering from severe nausea and sickness (the game has become known as "The Flu Game"). The image of Michael Jordan collapsing in the arms of teammate Scottie Pippen's arms in the last seconds of the game remains a YouTube classic. Phil Jackson, Jordan's coach, described the effort as "heroic."
For those of you looking for your heroes with greater redeeming qualities, we have Mother Teresa and Rosa Parks. The acts of heroism can be a lifetime achievement, or a transformational moment from where you choose to sit on a bus. Sully Sullenberger perfected his skills as a pilot for the moment when his training and ability to act saved a plane full of passengers during the landing of the U.S. Airways plane in the Hudson River in 2009.
In the coming months of May and June, we honor, and perhaps are honored as, mothers and fathers. May also celebrates Memorial Day, and those who have dedicated their lives in service of our nation. Many heroes are among these.
One thing we know about the hero is the ability to demonstrate integrity in the face of choice. The ability to be true to our values, in a split second decision or over the course of a lifetime, sets the stage for something powerful and transformational. The way we show up in our lives on a daily basis reflects our character and conviction. Heroism is not a one-day phenomenon; it's an everyday choice.
The hero is not allowed to hide. This does not necessarily mean stepping into the limelight, as humility is a strong attribute of the hero. Our deeds are what define us. We study; we prepare; we are not afraid, and if we are scared, we are able to call upon our inner core to carry us through.
What are we prepared to do, and be? Perhaps the lesson from the pandemic and from Ukraine is that we do not really know what is inside of us. Yet, as we continue to be ethical and forthright with our lives, no matter what comes our way, we empower ourselves and set an example for those who follow.
Spread kindness; be heroic in every moment.