August 16, 2010: Hero

Pondering heroes today, I am.  I looked online for the definition of Hero.  Among the more interesting ones:

  • the principal character in a play or movie or novel or poem
  • champion: someone who fights for a cause
  • (classical mythology) a being of great strength and courage celebrated for bold exploits; often the offspring of a mortal and a god
  • (Greek mythology) priestess of Aphrodite who killed herself when her lover Leander drowned while trying to swim the Hellespont to see her
  • bomber: a large sandwich made of a long crusty roll split lengthwise and filled with meats and cheese (and tomato and onion and lettuce and condiments)

I remember feeling like a hero once.  I was taking my son, Adam for a walk.  It could hardly be called a walk, based on the pace.  When you walk with a toddler it’s more of a mosey.  It was hot;  the mud on the path dust-covered and split open.  We came to a field and noticed a rustling not far off the path.  A bird, her legs hopelessly tangled in kite string.  If a bird could pant, she was doing so — her breast heaving.  I especially remember the fight in her eyes.  When we approached she initially beat her wings all the harder causing her whole body to turn in semi-circles amid the haylike grass.  Perhaps my eyes or my voice was enough to convey hope.  She settled down.

Adam was horrified.  He seemed to identify with her plight.  Agitated, he pointed out to me the problem with great arm gestures and two words:  Bird stuck.

I slowly, so as not to alarm her, pulled out my blue swiss army knife.  Carefully, I opened it and as deftly as possible, cut the twine in a couple of key places, careful to keep my hands from her beak.  As if unlocking a door, the bird then used her beak and claws to release the rest, and stood on her tiny claw feet.  She stretched her wings out fully.  And before departing in the flight of the newly freed but still stiff, she looked over her shoulder at us.  From me, to Adam, and back again.

When she took off, Adam smiled, and said, “Fly.  Bird!”

And he looked at me as if I were a hero.

When I think of those who have been heroes to me, I have similar memories of moments in which small actions made all the difference.

A friend who gave me shelter from the storm of my life, letting me cry so hard I screamed in the privacy of his home, far away from where anyone else would’ve heard my despair.  All the while keeping vigil outside in the dark, and not speaking of it when he returned save to say “in the future we’ll have to be sure to close the window.”

Another friend who fed me homemade seafood soup and fresh bread at a time when I was starved for both nourishment and comfort.  I remember the shallow shape of the bowl and the way every bite seemed to fill my entire being, not just my stomach.  It was late summer, when the air is perfectly still.  After the soup, we sat looking at the trees in her yard, talking in whispers about a girl too young to be dying and a love too real to be wrong.

My mom, when I visited at the lowest point of my life.  She took me to a park filled with gardens and carillon bells and walking paths.  The heading photo on this BLOG is a photo of me she took that day, while I was writing on a bench in the park.  We spoke very little on that trip.  She simply took me to a place of beauty.  Set me free.  Let me be.

So maybe another definition of hero should be:  one who sets another free.

Free to be silent.

Free to whisper.

Free to scream.

Heroes understand the need to help another get unstuck so they can move from being stiff to being supple, and once again fly.