I keep hearing about how we live in a culture where there are few heroes or good role models. People cite the painful failures of politicians, the doping scandals in major league sports, and the booking photos of starlets. To many it seems that heroes do not exist in a 24-hour cable news culture and streaming Internet. The assumption that underlies this lament is that heroes must be famous: those whom are not elevated by the media club must not have much value. I don’t think this is true.
There are plenty of heroes today. A few months ago, I was on vacation with my family and saw a hero. We never met, but I watched this man from an appropriate distance in a dining room. The man must have been in his 80s or 90s and he was with his wife. Weathered wedding bands adorned their fingers. She was severely disabled and confined to a wheelchair … one with the head supports. For some reason this couple caught my eye. I watched how he spoke to her with confidence and patience as he cut each bite of food for his life’s love. She struggled to chew and he wiped her chin and then playfully kissed her cheek. A half smile crossed her face and she flashed him a grateful glance. Her body was obviously no longer what it was when I imagine they skipped down the aisle or hosted joy filled dinner parties … but there was no sense of sadness. She may no longer have control of her body in the manner she did when they were young, but she still mattered and her husband knew it. Movies should be made about this kind of love. As I watched the scene unfold, I wished everyone could have my seat for this reality show. That elderly man did not need a cape or a following to be a hero; he had a napkin and a smile. I want to be like that guy!
When I imagine that couple’s relationship, I am sure there were fights, arguments, and morning breath. They are human and therefore not perfect. If investigative reporters picked apart their lives, I am sure they could unpack failure. None of our heroes have ever been perfect. They all have weaknesses. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves; Gandhi was estranged from his children; Superman suffered in the presence of kryptonite.
There is no need to idealize caricatures or icons. Do we really want to look up to impersonal fictions or to real people who have overcome failure to accomplish something meaningful? Do we want superstars or authentic people to serve as our role models? Let’s strive to see the quiet heroes in our everyday lives who faithfully serve, work, and care for others. Capes, perfection, and fame should be shelved as measures for role models and replaced with authenticity, courage, and consistent love.