There is a hero in each of us. Each of us is capable of real courage, strength, and nobility. Each of us can strive to do what everyone would like to do, but do not, due to lack of faith, commitment and perseverance.
In our culture we hold athletes, actors, and the like in highest esteem. They do exciting things, achieve remarkable success. But they are not real heroes, not the ones to emulate. What matters the most are not things or achievements, but persons and relationships. And the real heroes are the servants, like the front line medical staff, who serve at great personal risk.
The term “heroic” should be reserved for that which is highest in us. Since love is the ultimate value, the utmost reality attainable in our daily life, there is something fundamentally heroic about loving. Not merely feeling love or letting another love us is heroic. Rather, acts of love are heroic, and the risk to love greatly, astounding. Those who commit themselves to loving another in difficult, almost impossible circumstances, and not just as a one-time event, but as a thankless daily grind, these are the true heroes.
I think of a mother who chooses to care for her retarded infant rather than to give her child up to an institution, or of an aged husband struggling to care for his bedridden wife at home rather than taking her to a nursing facility. I’ve come across such hidden heroes; they are as salt and light among us; they keep families afloat, and humanity from self-destruction.
Real heroes are those who gives themselves to their loving, who commit their lives to service. Such persons rarely attract attention or receive adequate appreciation, but they derive something much more valuable: meaning, purpose and the deep satisfaction of making a difference, of making the world a little better place.
Perhaps we should define heroic less by the size of the risk taken, than by the degree of sacrifice required. We much enjoy movies about taking risks, especially for gaining great wealth or for righting great wrongs. But we rarely see and do not so enjoy movies about great sacrifices taken for the sake of love. Heroic loving is not what our dreams are made of.
While love must not be defined by sacrifice, sacrifice may nevertheless be required. Yet few of us do sacrifices well, nor do we want to have to. We prefer love’s fruit to love’s labor, love’s pleasure to love’s pain. We do not want to commit to something or someone if too much might be asked of us.
There are two kinds of sacrifices: those we choose, and those life chooses for us. The latter are things life circumstances force us to give up, like the dreams of a career or a family. The former are sacrifices we make for the sake of a greater good, like giving up some personal freedom for the sake of loving another. To do so is nothing short of heroic.
Again I say, there is a hero in each of us. We all have the capacity to do something wonderful, something beautiful. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta lived and taught, it is better to do little deeds with great love than great deeds with little love. Our capacity for great love is nothing short of heroic. Look around you in these troubled times, and you will see great love, unspoken love, quietly serving.