A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


The thing about heroes is they rarely consider themselves to be particularly heroic.

They do what they do. And they do it because . . . well . . . itís what they do.

I have two nephews who are law enforcement officers. If I told them that I think they are heroes, they would laugh and wait for the punch line. While both of them love their work and are very good at it, both of them get frustrated with it from time to time. Most of their days are spent doing mundane things: following routines, filling out paperwork, dealing with petty problems and bureaucratic requirements.

Sort of like the rest of us. Maybe more so.

Only occasionally are they thrown into situations where valor is required. But those things happen so suddenly and so quickly that they donít have time to think about whether or not they will do it. They just respond as they have been trained to respond, and whatever happens, happens. Itís only after the fact that they have time to consider their options, and the possible consequences of each.

For them, and for their families.

"You donít really think about being in harmís way, even though deep down inside you know that you always are," said Michael. "Itís just part of wearing the uniform and the badge. Itís part of the deal."

Itís also part of the deal for family members who send loved ones off to work each day knowing the possibilities.

"I try not to think about it," said Rebecca, Michaelís wife, while he was still training in the Police Academy. "I guess you get used to it after a while. But right now . . . I just try not to think about it."

Kris has been sending her husband, Bud, off to do police work every day for years. Sheís not sure if you get used to it or not.

"Maybe you just get numb to it," Kris told me a few years ago, soon after a highway patrolman in our area was killed during a "routine" traffic stop. "But whenever you hear about a police officer or a fire fighter losing their life on the job, you hurt. And you remember . . ."

She didnít finish the sentence. She didnít have to. In many ways, we all remember how fragile life can be, especially when your chosen occupation has to do with enforcing societyís laws or fighting fires or riding rockets into outer space. While these men and women are carefully trained and meticulously prepared to respond to every imaginable scenario, there are times when training and preparation simply arenít enough. Routine traffic stops erupt with unexpected violence. House fires rage out of control. Rockets suddenly explode. And heroes die Ė tragically Ė doing the very thing that they themselves chose to do.

And we are all poorer Ė and yet, somehow, richer Ė for it.

We mourn their passing, and we hurt for loved ones left behind. At the same time, however, we have been inspired by their courage and uplifted by their commitment to something greater than self. As a society we have gained much from their work and their example. While itís true that the world is a poorer and sadder place because they died, it is equally true that it is a better place because they lived. Thatís the way it is with heroes.

Whether they consider themselves to be heroic Ė or not.

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through