By NEMS Daily Journal
Remembering the people who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and citing those who died trying to save the lives of the terrorists’ human targets, has prompted a healthy discussion among many about heroes and heroines.
Hundreds of people attained that status on 9/11. The toll among first responders – firemen and policemen – climbed into the hundreds because they were relentless and sacrificial in trying to get people out of the burning twin towers of the World Trade Center.
Their valiant efforts ended with the towers’ collapse.
Earlier this week reserve Marine Cpl. Dakota L. Meyer was awarded the Medal of Honor for his extraordinary heroism in saving the lives of his fellow combatants and some civilians in a 2009 ambush in Afghanistan. Meyer, a Kentucky construction worker, said he would rather have the buddies he lost in that firefight standing with him than to have received the medal, our nation’s highest citation for valor.
Heroes have been important for as long as people have held others in highest esteem, especially in specific contexts.
The late Peter Gomes, a Baptist minister and writer, said in his book, “The Good Life: The Great Virtues,” “Heroes were invented so that we might have examples by which to model our own lives. They were placed on plinths and pedestals not to remove them from us or to keep them at a distance but that more of us might see them and emulate them.”
Heroes, Gomes wrote, are profiles in hope to encourage, stimulate and enable us.
Few people who have had anything resembling a normal life have not had heroes and heroines – those others – whether by direct relationship or by convincing memory – who influenced and inspired the admirers.
Gomes uses the example from the New Testament Book of Hebrews, which cites ancient heroic personalities of faith in the Hebrew scriptures who believed in a hope not fulfilled in their lifetimes:
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed they were pilgrims and strangers on the earth.” Hebrews 11:13 KJV
In essence, heroes and heroines don’t always achieve what they set out to achieve, but their hope and faith in doing what they could made them worthy of emulation.
Gomes also has strong cautions for our contemporary culture about confusing celebrity with heroism:
“The difference between the heroes and the celebrities is that, on one hand, heroes have qualities we value as intrinsically good, and we celebrate our heroes for those good qualities and seek to emulate them. Celebrities, on the other hand, may or may not be good, but we create celebrities and we unmake them as well, and hence the so-called power is with us and not with them. … Who cares about Brad Pitts’ views on the economy? What Hollywood stars would you like your children to turn into as adults? What made Donald Trump think we could take him seriously for more than he is?”
The 21st century, Gomes suggests, will renew the search for models worthy of hope and emulation.
As he wrote, maybe this century will witness the recovery of the heroic and the renewal of the exemplary.