Tragedy helps us redefine, clarify meaning of 'hero'

Posted: Sunday, September 30, 2001

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Americans have focused their attention on the twin forces of "evil" and "good." The "good" being used to combat the "evil" of that fateful day has come to light in a number of ways -- banding together to aid the victims of the attacks, displaying our love of country, immediately coming to the defense of those who are wrongly targeted for retaliation because of their skin color, their religion or their Middle Eastern background.

It's also been reflected in how we define our "heroes." For too long it seems, Americans have bestowed their admiration on sports stars, movie stars and rock stars. Outrageous behavior and big bank accounts have grabbed our attention. No doubt many of our popular heroes have lots of talent, but they don't always have the kind of character we would want children to emulate.

The Sept. 11 attacks have reminded the country of the real heroes among us -- the legions of ordinary people who do extraordinary things, those who put their safety and lives on the line for the sake of others, those who act with uncommon courage when the world literally is falling down around them.

The stories of the hundreds of firefighters who gave their lives, of the passengers who took action against the hijackers aboard United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania, of the survivors who now must find the will to do more than merely survive inspire us to live better lives.

And isn't that what real heroes do? They challenge us to make a difference right where we are, no matter how mundane our circumstances may seem.

Heroism isn't about wealth, fame, good looks, talent or headlines -- although those have been many of the standards by which we have picked heroes. Instead, heroism is about putting others before one's self -- no matter how frightening the circumstances. While their selfless acts speak of bravery, we suspect those heroes from Sept. 11 were scared; many, maybe most, of them knew the odds were against them. Still, they acted.

In our own communities, there are people whose jobs require them to put the safety and protection of others first. We tend to take them for granted, but they are the first on the scene of any emergency -- police, firefighters, medics and other rescue workers. They are in the business of protecting and saving lives.

It's usually fairly quiet on the peninsula, but the potential for disaster is always present. It may be in the form of a wildfire or a volcano or an earthquake or an avalanche. Or it may be a domestic violence call in which anything can happen. Or a multi-car crash on an icy highway.

When the unexpected does occur, we expect these heroes among us to be ready, to help us, to protect us, to show us what to do. It's a huge responsibility. They never know when normalcy may be shattered and they will be asked to put themselves in danger for the sake of someone else.

Today, we take the time to applaud those heroes in our own neighborhoods -- particularly, those emergency responders who take care of the rest of us when the unexpected happens. There are countless others, however, who also can rightfully be considered heroes in our communities -- in our book, that's anyone who puts the welfare of others before their own.

Let's let them know how appreciated they are and how their lives make us want to live more meaningful lives. The city of Soldotna is taking the time to do that in a formal way today. At 3 p.m. at the Soldotna Senior Center, all the heroes of the Soldotna Emergency Response Team will be honored. It's a great idea. We join Soldotna in saying thanks to all the heroes of the Kenai Peninsula.

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