“Being a hero is about the shortest-lived profession on earth.” -Will Rogers
Hero, idol, role model; it’s funny, the way we throw those words around. We assign them to people without benefit of knowing them. Throwing a football does not make someone a hero. And yet, last Sunday the world watched as Ray Lewis perched on his pedestal, AFC Championship trophy held aloft. Fans called him an inspiration. ESPN celebrated the thought of him going out on top. Was Anna Burns Welker on to something when she reminded the world via Twitter that Ray Lewis was once charged with murder? Was he successfully rehabilitated? I have no idea.
Oprah didn’t really break any new ground with Lance Armstrong. She didn’t uncover anything the world hadn’t already suspected for years. That he confirmed those suspicions didn’t make anyone feel any better though. Here was an athlete that worked hard, became the best AND defeated cancer. His Livestrong campaign has helped many, raising tens of millions of dollars in the process. But he’ll only be remembered for being a liar and a cheat.
Speaking of lies, has anyone seen Lennay Kekua? She owes me $50.
Manti Te’o is an amazingly gifted football player. He was coined as this incredible young man, overcoming heartbreaking loss to lead Notre Dame to an undefeated season. Had he won the Heisman would it have been for his ability on the field? Or would it have been for his straight-out-of-a-Lifetime-movie love story?
Why do we place such a high value on athletes and celebrities? Did anyone really expect Lindsey Lohan to be a role model for their young daughters because she acted in a couple of Disney movies? Why are we so surprised when someone in the spotlight screws up? It’s as if we forget they’re humans; as mortal as the rest of us.
Meanwhile, in places big and small all around us, heroes are quietly being made. Houston area waiter Michael Garcia never expected to receive so much attention for doing the right thing. When a boorish customer asked to be moved to a table away from a five year old boy with Down syndrome, Garcia complied. Until the customer remarked “special needs kids should be kept in special places.” Even with the possibility of losing his job, Mr. Garcia stood up for Milo and refused to serve the man and his family. He’s a role model. And, certainly Milo’s hero.
George Hemphill, a World War II vet and Purple Heart recipient was reunited with his medal over the weekend. He sent it home via mail 70 years ago. It never quite made it. It was purchased in 1990 at a pawn store. It eventually made its way to Capt. Zachariah Fike and his “Purple Hearts Reunited” project. Already a hero for serving our nation, Capt. Fike went above and beyond to celebrate the heroism of others. It’s a name I’m proud to have shared with my children.
Guy Praisler became an unlikely hero Monday night in New York. The commuter took action when his bus driver lost consciousness behind the wheel. Without a second thought, he moved to the driver and managed to get his foot off of the gas pedal causing the bus to stop. He likely saved lives, while risking his own. Mr. Praisler told the NY Post, “I wasn’t trying to be hero. I just wanted to stop the bus.”
In an age when we can barely look up to our political leaders, it’s nice to know every day Americans give us hope. They do the right thing no matter what the personal cost. They risk their jobs, they give their time, and they even put their lives on the line. Not for the glory or for the money or for the fame. They do it because it’s the right thing.
Maybe Will Rogers is right. Or maybe it’s just our memories that are short-lived. Here’s to remembering (and celebrating) the Michael Garcias, Captain Fikes, and Guy Praislers of the world.
Image: The Purple Heart medal; source: United States Air Force; author: English: D. Myles Cullen; the public domain.