“I’m saying being a hero means you step across the line and are willing to make a sacrifice… Heroes always take a risk… Heroes are always doing something that most people don’t – but I want to democratise heroism to say any of us can be a hero.” Philip Zimbardo
“You can’t relate to a superhero, to a superman, but you can identify with a real man who in times of crisis draws forth some extraordinary quality from within himself and triumphs… after a struggle.” Timothy Dalton
When our son was a little boy, he loved Superman so much I made him a cape with Superman’s logo on it. He would tie it around his neck and run through the house “flying.” Now, Chris was moderately hyperactive, so I probably should say he always RAN through the house. But when he was wearing his cape, he felt invincible.
I had also grown up watching Superman, though it was black and white when I was little. But even without living color, I believed in him. I knew, when Superman stood against the background of a waving flag, arms in fists on his hips, America was safe because he stood for “Truth, Justice and the American Way.” I think Chris believed that, too. Perhaps, he also believed, like I did, that even if he never achieved lift-off no matter how fast he ran, he could still be a hero – he was and is.
Growing up a Baby Boomer created some of that feeling in my life. I think Boomers grew up thinking we could do extraordinary things, even if we were only ordinary people. We were inspired by the generation that went before us. Ordinary people, our parents, but ordinary people who were part of what Tom Brokow would later call the “greatest generation.” They had faced a war against incredible malevolence and learned, as Bob Riley said, that “Hard times don’t create heroes…but…during hard times…the hero within us is revealed.”
Somehow, Superman was a lot like us or at least like them. Mild mannered, awkward with the opposite sex, a bit of a nerd, not always comfortable in our own skin, living a life, going to a job, but when wrong arose or evil appeared, transformed.
Ok, he did have the cape…and x-ray vision, and the suit, and the Fortress of Solitude. But I think what really made him one of us was that we knew he wanted to hang up the cape, marry Lois, and live his life as Clark Kent – just like our fathers and uncles and aunts did after they came back from war to fight the day-to-day battles of life.
That is everyday heroism and sometimes it can take more courage and fortitude than “leaping buildings in a single bound.”
Christopher Reeve, the actor who played Superman in a number of movies, was asked over and over what it meant to be a hero and his initial answer was pretty standard, “taking a courageous action without considering the consequences.” After he became a quadriplegic, however, his definition changed. “Now… I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”
Ordinary heroes versus Superheroes? I will take the ordinary every time. They are the people who have learned how to face the consequences and still keep going.
This week there was an announcement that must be making Chris Reeve smile up in heaven. Derek Fydyka, a Polish man injured in a knife attack that severed his spine, is walking again and has had some feeling return to his legs because of a pioneering new surgery that used regenerating olfactory cells to rebuild his spinal cord. Mr. Fydyka is a hero not just because he let them try the surgery, but because everyday he is persevering, getting up and working at it, literally making a supreme effort to put one foot in front of the other. That was Chris’ dream.
So, who are my heroes? My son, my husband, my daughter, my mother, my uncle, my aunt. I mean that. They are larger than life to me because of how they have lived their lives and how they love their families.
Who are your ordinary heroes? Who looks at you everyday and sees a Superman? And don’t doubt it – you are a hero to someone. We are all blessed with people who inspire us to be better, and we all have the chance to be an inspiration, despite how mundane we may think we are.
We don’t really need to fly to be invincible, we just have to refuse to give up.
So, time to leave this blog, do the dishes, fold the laundry and clean the house. Time to put one foot in front of the other and begin today’s walk, knowing that, at least for now, my path is a lot easier than many people’s. I think Chris’ cape is in the cedar chest…guess I’ll go dig it out. Oh, and if you want, I’ll let you wear it any time you need it to run till you fly. Hope that’s ok with you, Chris.