Friday, July 15, 2011

I Need A Hero (or do I?)

My 14-year old son has taken a liking for movies about unlikely heroes. With the help of his Clear-Play DVD player and Netflix, he’s watched Schindler’s List and Hotel Rwanda. In both, unlikely heroes surface to do something they would not have assumed they could do beforehand.

In sacrament meeting last week, one of the speakers talked about Ester and her being in the right place at the right time to serve her people in a heroic way.

I think stories of accidental heroes appeal to us because they reflect on the innate goodness of someone to do the right thing, and that the right thing may have a significant impact. (I’d be tempted to quote 1 Nephi 16:29 in which we read, “And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things,” except that I’ve always been struck by the irony of that statement. The liahona may have been small in size, but certain not in technology or impact!)

I don’t know if my son wonders if he will be an unlikely hero someday, but he does like to be the one to buck the system in his teenage version of righteous indignation (just like his father, some might say). It’s striking to me that according to the book (I’ve never seen the movie) Oskar Schindler seemed to be an unremarkable man before and after his work to save Jews from the Holocaust. Paul Rusesabagina, the real-life hotel manager and hero in Hotel Rwanda seems to have done the only thing he could at the moment – to save the lives of over 1,000 people in his war-torn city.

My mother told her own story of heroism, though she never couched it in those terms. One morning she set out to do her visiting teaching and came to the home of one of the sisters on her list. The door was open, and the woman was passed out on the kitchen floor. My mother entered the house and called an ambulance, and probably saved the sister’s life (the sister certainly credited Mom with that). My mother would say all she did was what anyone would have done. And she points out she was only doing her visiting teaching, not responding to some remarkable prompting to go on that particular day.

Bertolt Brecht did not accept larger than life heroes, and did not write them into his plays. In Galileo, the title character is presented as decidedly human. One of my favorite moments in the play is when Galileo explains to a student that a scientist proves nothing is true. In fact, he says, the scientist creates a hypothesis and then does all he can to prove it wrong. Only in failure to prove himself wrong does he believe he has found truth. This anti-hero succeeds in failure.

The Savior’s teaching about the first being last and the last being first, the leader being the servant, and the unlearned being wise suggests that the prideful view of hero-as-pinnacle is probably not the celestial view. Indeed the Savior’s most heroic act was one no mortal witnessed (as those closest to him slept).

Perhaps it is not good for us to try to be heroic, but to be, as President Hinckley taught, the best we can be. If we do, it is likely that along the way we may be heroic to someone, as my mother was, and maybe to many.


  1. I don't think I ever heard that story about Mom - at least, I don't remember it!

  2. I think it may have happened when I was still at home, but no one else was. Mom dismissed it as totally no big deal, so it's no surprise she never brought it up.