Today, I woke up in a cozy bed. I drank a fresh cup of coffee. I took a hot shower. Then, I turned on the television set and devoured a hearty breakfast.
Right then and there, as the ghastly images of an unprecedented natural catastrophe in Houston flashed before my eyes, it occurred to me that several million people living in Texas and Louisiana weren’t able to enjoy the simplest of pleasures most of us take for granted.
Deep down, I do think most people are good people. I believe most people want to help others when they can. Despite our differences, I’m convinced that most people want to help their neighbors and fellow citizens in times of crisis — even those they do not know. And, I’m just as certain that most people don’t care about the color of someone else’s skin, or how he or she votes in an election, or what lifestyle is chosen — good people will usually do the right thing when acts of human compassion are needed the most.
The relief effort now underway in Houston shows the better side of all of us. Yes, we are petty. Yes, we are spiteful. Yes, we are flawed. Yes, we make mistakes. But we also care. We want to reach out and help people in their time of need. Many have already done so.
Yet, some people do go the extra mile. Some people make the added sacrifice. Some people risk their own lives to try and save others. These are the true heroes.
In the past few days, I’ve seen and read amazing stories of some remarkable people. They have opened up their homes to total strangers. They have driven hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles, towing ramshackle boats to rescue those who are stranded in their flooded homes, who are waiting for a hero to arrive. They have donated money, and food, and emergency supplies. They have taken in pets and moved them into foster homes. They have worked tirelessly around the clock — all while I slept, while I drank a fresh cup of coffee, while I took a hot shower, while I watched television, while I devoured a hearty breakfast.
A Houston police officer even gave his life. His name was Steve Perez. Wait a minute….his name *IS* Steve Perez. Say that name. Say it aloud. He deserves to be known and remembered, not as a “was” but an “is.” Steve Perez is a hero.
I’ve written before that I’m far more impressed by casual acts of kindness and random good deeds than the supposed marvels and talents of those who are rich and famous. We sure have a peculiar way of defining our “heroes,” all too often associating personal valor with the talent to throw a ball or look beautiful in a movie. Too frequently we misconstrue heroism with money, fame, and power. Willfully accepting these shiny objects of superfluous celebrity stands as the very antithesis of being heroic, since doing so calls attention to oneself instead of one’s character and deeds, and letting genuine acts of human compassion speak for themselves.
Alas, the true heroes among us are not famous. More often than not, true heroism is anonymous. Heroes work in nursing homes, often for appallingly low pay and for little recognition. They serve as caretakers, sometimes without the reciprocity of simple gratitude. They willingly volunteer to help the less fortunate. They fight to defend wildlife and protect the environment. They commit their lives to justice. They go out on nightly patrol, trying to keep our streets and neighborhoods safe. I will admit, these heroes are much stronger than me. They perform admirable deeds that in some cases I do not think I could do. I think that’s what makes them heroes.
Right now, Houston has a serious problem. It’s a problem of unfathomable size and scope. Dealing with these problems will not be easy. But solving the very worst of Houston’s immediate problems will be an absolute given, a certainty, all thanks to the many heroes out there working and volunteering as I type and you read, heroes with names we do not know.