Our annual celebration of July 4th usually gets us thinking about heroes and heroism. In America these days, it seems that there are only about four kinds of people who are given the title of Hero publicly: members of the military, firefighters, police officers and paramedics (those who have been grouped together as “first responders” since 9/11). Now, let me be clear: I have no problem whatsoever calling any of these people heroes. Members of the military, along with their families, make real sacrifices to fulfill their vocations and, implicit with that vocation, is the willingness to make “the ultimate sacrifice” in situations which may cost them their lives. Many of them also pay a heavy price in terms of sacrificing their psychological and spiritual well-being as a result of being exposed to the kind of violence that is at the heart of warfare.
First responders, too, make sacrifices to fulfill their vocations. Some of them always have to be on duty no matter what holiday we may be observing, and they may be required to run into burning buildings to save us, stare down the barrel of a gun wielded by some kind of thug or hold someone’s life in their hands while they rush them to the hospital. This, too, is a kind of heroism that is worthy of our respect.
What troubles me is not the attention paid to these heroes, but the way in which we restrict the definition of hero to only people who fill these kinds of roles. What about other kinds of heroes? Like the single mother who can barely make ends meet and has no one to help her with her kids but who carries on with life, holding down a job and getting her bills paid and raising her children. Or like the homeless man who seemingly has no hope but who continues to put one foot in front of the other day after day and find some reason to live. Or the person caught in depression who can hardly function but who finds a way to make it through the next hour believing, despite any evidence that she can see, that someday the depression will be better. Or the alcoholic who has found his way to sobriety and works his 12 steps and goes regularly to AA, knowing that his life would be utterly set back to square one were he to take so much as one drink in a moment of weakness.
The list, of course, could go on and on. These are the everyday heroes who live life in the face of hardship and struggle and suffering. These everyday heroes could be added to the other everyday heroes who don’t make the news but who make the world better by doing what they do: teaching, taking care of kids, removing our garbage and recycling every week, catching rats who have taken up residence under our houses. The list indeed could go on and on.
Jesus was always making heroes of people who didn’t get recognized as being particularly heroic. He recognized the heroism of the poor, of the oppressed, of the marginalized and disenfranchised. He celebrated the heroism of the sick and of those whom others classified as unclean. To all of them he said over and over again, “Blessed are you….blessed are you…blessed are you.”
Now that we have finished our July 4th celebrations and recognized our public heroes, perhaps we can celebrate the everyday heroes who live under the national radar but whose lives are no less heroic than those who receive our public honors. How might we celebrate? By simply taking a a moment to say, “Thank you. I admire your heroism. Blessed are you.”