A Weekly Column
Joseph Walker


“So Joe – are you OK?”

Trever, a young work associate, was worried about me.  A group of us were talking between meetings about . . . well, what EVERYONE seems to be talking about these days.  Because of previous conversations (what – you think we actually talk about work at work?), he was aware of how much I admire the athletic skills of the man who was now being accused of . . . well . . . a lot of stuff.  Absorbed and a little troubled by what I was hearing, I had fallen silent for a few moments, which is probably what prompted his concern.

“I’m fine,” I responded.  “Why do you ask?”

“Well,” he said, “I guess it’s hard for you to watch this stuff happen to your hero.”

His comment caught me a little off-guard.

“Hero?” I asked.  I turned the word over in my mind a few times, mentally examining it for fit and feeling.  “I love watching him play, and he always seemed to be a pretty good guy.  But I’m not sure he was ever my hero.”

“Oh,” Trever said.  He paused, then asked: “Then who IS your hero?”

It was a good question, one for which I didn’t have a quick answer.  I have admired many people during my life, and in some cases their influence upon me has been significant.  But heroes?  I wasn’t sure.  To tell the truth, in this day of underachieving, smaller-than-life protagonists, it’s sometimes difficult to know exactly what a hero is.

Or isn’t.

Look at life as it is portrayed in the entertainment media.  How often are we given someone to look up to, a hero who inspires us to be better than we are?  Not often.  Instead we are inundated with anti-heroes.  Television gives us family disharmony and calls it “realistic.”  Films give us characters who, according to one critic, have “all the warmth and charm of poisonous lizards.”  The music industry celebrates the cheap, the tawdry and the profane.

Some sociologists trace the demolition of the American ideal to Watergate, the ultimate example of a toppled hero.  Ever since then, the theory goes, we have been reluctant to put anyone on a pedestal for fear of being burned by another hero-gone-wrong.  And so we assume that everyone is hiding skeletons in their closets, and do everything we can to prove that even the best of us is pretty darn rotten.

Which is supposed to make us feel better, I guess – as if we can take pride in watching a TV family and saying, “Well, at least we’re not THAT bad.  But where are the positive role models who inspire us to be better, rather than simply making us grateful we’re not any worse?

As I’ve thought about it since my conversation with Trever I’ve decided that those larger-than-life heroes are still out there.  You just have to look beyond prime time and into your neighborhoods, where ordinary folks are making a difference in meaningful ways.  Maybe you’ll find your hero at a rec center working with underprivileged youth.  Or maybe she’s a hospital volunteer, a Scout leader, a PTA officer or a particularly caring and sensitive police officer.

There are heroes in the schoolyard, at the church pulpit, in the office and yes, even at home.  Some are flashy and well-known – most are not.  But they all seem to have two things in common: the vision to see what needs to be done, and the courage to do it – no matter what.  For me it was my family, then later, an incredible high school teacher.  More recently, a wonderful spiritual leader has inspired and motivated me.  I never saw any of them score a touchdown, and none has ever been in a sitcom, a box office hit or a music video.  But their vision and courage shaped me and made me want to be better.  And as far as I’m concerned, that’s pretty heroic.

Not larger-than-life or smaller-than-life.  Just REAL life.

Pedestal not included.

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— © Joseph Walker

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Look What Love Has Done:  Five-Minute Messages to Lift Your Spirit. 

"How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen?  Home Remedies for an Ailing World."

Christmas on Mill Street - An All New Holiday Novel!