Sunday, December 18, 2016

Humble Heroes Just Do Their Job


by John B. Rosenman




John Glenn died recently. I think most of us would agree that he was a national hero. To mention just a few of his accomplishments and contributions: he was a multi-decorated fighter pilot of 150 combat missions; the first American to orbit Earth; a national political figure for 24 years in the Senate; and at 77 years of age, the oldest, by far, to return to space via the space shuttle Discovery.

But I want to focus on something else. John Glenn was not only reluctant to talk about himself as a hero, he apparently didn’t think of himself as one. He said, “I figure I’m the same person who grew up in New Concord, Ohio, and went off through the years to participate in a lot of events of importance.” When referring to his Earth-orbiting mission, he was flatly dismissive. “What got a lot of attention, I think, was the tenuous times we thought we were living in back in the Cold War. I don’t think it was about me. All this would have happened to anyone who happened to be selected for that flight.”

I don’t think it was about me. I’ve noticed that many of the greatest heroes have this self-effacing quality. We see them often. A cop or fireman risks their life to save the lives of others, and what do they say? “I was just doing my job.” When asked, they say they don’t think of themselves as heroes. They habitually defer to others and avoid the spotlight. They don’t think of themselves as superior to anyone, and praise and attention often embarrass them. If I may be permitted a personal reference, this is a major quality of Turtan, my fictional hero. For God’s sake, don’t praise him or make speeches in his honor. He was just doing his job.

This description describes to a T the values of Irena Sendler, a Polish woman. She risked her life to save the lives of 2500 Jewish children during World War II. She was caught, tortured, and severely beaten by the Gestapo who tried to make her reveal the names of the children and of her comrades. Despite her agony, Irena Sandler refused to do so. She was then sentenced to death and narrowly escaped. You would think after demonstrating such courage and conviction, that this woman would pat herself on the back a little and accept a compliment or two. Not at all! When interviewed, Irena Sandler said, “Every child saved with my help is the justification of my existence on this earth and not a title to my glory.”

In other words, I was just doing my job.

I’m not saying that people who display bravery and courage are not heroes if they thump their chest and brag a little. It’s okay to strut a bit and bask in well-earned praise. And I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t like movie superheroes and men and women of action who risk their hides and do glorious and splashy deeds. It’s just that during my life, I’ve noticed that it’s often the unsung and unnoticed heroes who are the most noble and praiseworthy. They may not be as glamorous or romantic, but they shine with a truer light, the kind you may have to watch closely to see.



I’ll give you one more example. I taught for nearly forty years at HBCU’s (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Often the families were poor and struggled to send their children to college. As an English professor, I came in contact with single mothers who labored at two or more jobs to afford a higher education for their children. To me, they were heroes. There was no stirring, uplifting music when they got down on their knees to wash a floor, and they weren’t featured on TV shows or the covers of any fashionable magazines. Nevertheless, in my book they were heroes, and I sometimes reflected on the strength and courage they must have possessed, especially when they themselves pursued a higher education thirty years or more after they had dropped out of high school.

In a way, these women were just doing their job too and didn’t think of themselves as heroes. Yet they were, and I believe such individuals deserve our recognition and appreciation far more than the glamorous stars we so often worship.


CONQUEROR OF THE STARS, Book 4 of John’s Inspector of the Cross series releases January 2017 . . . Pre-order now available...save $3.00.
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