Our Real Heroes
A few nights ago, a baseball player in the Bronx stepped up to home plate, took a mighty swing, and belted a curveball into right field, scoring the final run of an otherwise meaningless game.
The large metropolis filled with beautiful and powerful people where this astonishing moment took place erupted into a frenzy. Social media exploded into hysteria. The image of this man hitting a ball appeared on every local and national sports network and was replayed over and over again until just about everyone knew about it. The following morning, newspaper headlines glorified the amazing ballplayer with the most saintly of headlines. The player was frequently lauded by observers as a “hero.”
Derek Jeter, who happens to be playing his final game for the storied New York Yankees this weekend, seems like a nice enough fellow. He appears to be a wonderful role model and an ideal citizen. Mr. Jeter is many things to many people, perhaps most paramount the manifestation of millions of dreams. He embodies the noblest virtues of good sportsmanship. That said, Mr. Jeter is not a hero.
Indeed, “hero” is a word that gets tossed around much too loosely nowadays. And frankly, I’ve become sick of its overuse and misappropriation and now feel compelled to express such indignation.
To be sure, there are plenty of heroes out there, even some who are living amongst us. But they’re not athletes, nor are they celebrities. They’re not business moguls, nor politicians. I’m not even sure most of the very fine men and women serving in the armed forces truly deserve to be labeled as “heroes.” After all, if every single individual who puts on a military uniform is a hero, then what word shall we then bestow upon those who actually perform substantive acts of courage? “Super-hero” perhaps? And if someone does something truly divine, does he become a “Super-duper hero?”
Catch my drift?
Sorry, but I can’t call Mr. Jeter, who will be paid the princely sum of $12 million this year in base salary alone, not counting lucrative endorsement deals and appearance fees, a “hero.” No movie star, no CEO, no elected official, no person who merits such wondrous good fortune merits such mass endearment. No number of touchdown passes, nor game-winning shots, nor home runs, nor Oscars, nor Grammys, nor covers of popular magazines can make image fit reality. Square pegs don’t go into round holes. Pretend all you want. Real courage, true valor, and bona fide acts of heroism are rarely seen, and even lesser known. And they don’t happen in stadiums, nor movie studios. You certainly won’t find heroes on Wall Street nor Capital Hill, which sadly is where such characteristics are desperately needed the most.
Here’s the part of the essay where many of you might as well click the “X” in the upper right-hand corner, which serves as the conveniently impromptu “I’m no longer interested” icon. For the rest of you eager to push your own boundaries and contemplate the troubles of the real world, please read on. Contemplate the following.
Imagine a real place where a deadly disease is killing thousands of innocents, in the most grueling way.
Imagine a nation where the vast majority of citizens live in mind-numbing poverty.
Imagine a disease so deadly that there is no known cure.
Wait, there’s more.
Imagine being a medical professional. Imagine abandoning your comfortable and prosperous life in a modern industrialized megacity and voluntarily immersing yourself into a jungle, amidst poverty, face-to-face with disease and death every single day. Imagine these threats to public safety taking no days off. No vacations. This is a 24/y threat to humanity. Then, imagine taking on a killer virus you cannot see. Imagine confronting all the fears of those around you. Imagine the tears and the realization there’s little you can do to end the pain.
Could you do that? I admit — I couldn’t.
There’s still more. Hang in there with me. Please.
Imagine risking your life to save complete strangers. Imagine sleeping and spending what little free time you might have in total squalor. Imagine working in stifling heat and eating lousy food. Imagine a place where there is no happy hour. Then, imagine having to wear a cumbersome hazardous-material suit during most of your working day.
Stop. We’re not finished yet. There’s still more.
By taking on this tough assignment, you will be leaving your family and friends behind, totally unaware of when you will return to your home. You will be paid a modest salary far lower than you are used to earning. You will likely receive no gratitude, nor accolades. Most of the people you try to help won’t even know your name.
Can you possibly imagine taking such an assignment, willing to risk your life daily to help strangers against this deadly disease?
This is precisely what the extraordinary people who work among the Doctors Without Borders program (Médecins Sans Frontières) are now doing all over the world. They’re in Sierra Leone, Haiti, and Syria. And many other countries too where danger persists. These medical professional go where the human hand is needed the most — to lands decimated by natural disasters like earthquakes and floods, to war-torn nations there bombs and bullets continue to fly and fall, and to regions where disease and famine have brought fear and death to people who have no heroes in their lives.
Yes, these are the real heroes. These are our true heroes. Many dedicated people who’s names we shall never know. Faces hidden behinds surgical masks and protective shields. Reaching out with compassion and touching those most in need. Saving us on this side of a vast ocean from a deadly threat beyond our comprehension. These are the people who keep death at bay, while we cheer ballplayers and worship celebrities.
To myself, I ponder. Where are their cheers? Where’s their standing ovation?
Where’s our sense of perspective?
Please read more about these real heroes here: DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS (EBOLA)