This I Believe

John - Wheat Ridge, Colorado
Entered on June 30, 2007

I believe in heroism. Now, I know that conjures images both cheesy and jingoistic, but hear me out.

I was born on the Fourth of July. Like all Fourth of July babies, you learn of patriotism, nationalism and your country’s history early, once you learn the fireworks aren’t for you.

Even so, I was never patriotic particularly. I learned that my country shared my birthday at the same time I learned that the ‘n’ word the kids on the playground called me was not a pretty word. I learned at that time my country used that same term for my parents and grandparents. I learned that that word was one that did not deter the first hero I learned about, Martin Luther King Jr., to cease fighting for freedom for all people. I learned that other heroes fought against injustice of all sorts; racism, sexism, homophobia, fair wages on and on.

I learned to read early and my parents used to buy me comic books. I learned of other heroes, thinking about them in church when the minister said that “No greater love hath a man than this, than to lay down his life for another”. Heck, Spider-man, Captain America, Batman and Superman did that all the time. Without brothers or sisters, these heroes became models of behavior. When Superman caught people falling off of buildings or Spider-man put himself in mortal danger to rescue a stranger, I learned that there is something more important than personal comfort and personal security. I yearned to save someone, running around in pajamas and cape and jumping off furniture before my mother would halt my activities. “but I’m saving the world, mom!”

Heroism, some say, is a drying up in this modern age. This period of suicide bombers and self-serving leaders who ape altruism. What we see reported less is what happens after the dust settles. Not just first responders but the second thru hundred and second responders. The woman on the street respectfully dealing with the newly deceased or the man crying as a stranger meets an unkind fate.

Heroism is the response to act counter to our biological programming of self-preservation; it is the highest expression of spirit that humanity can muster. All philosophers, spiritual teachers and prophets of all religions had it. It is not, however,

only the high minded that occupy this noble way of being; firefighters are heroes sure, but so are kind bus drivers when you are having a bad day.

Later, as an adult Vajrayana Buddhist, I took the bodhisattva vow, an eternal vow to liberate all beings, even insects, from the path of suffering, no matter how long it takes. I took on taking care of two developmentally disabled adults who are not relatives, in my home, to a least try to make two people beyond my family circle have better lives. I make my best effort to be heroic at all moments, sometimes that just means a kind word to a stranger crying saying “this too shall pass”.

See, heroism is beyond flags and borders. It smashes them and puts us in touch with the infinite. We shed our relatively important pursuits and touch the ultimate.

So, perhaps we need not be disheartened with the news and its chaotic scenes of tremendous violence and celebrity misdeeds but rest in the knowledge that however villainous events appear to us, there are more heroes than villains. After all, that electric mainline of heroism runs thru us all; even the seemingly villainous. And that they too will know and experience the transcendence of heroism eventually. After all, its the real heroes’ job to make that happen for them even as they themselves embody it.