Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s is about finding the truly heroic in the “me” culture.
What’s so good about Friday? I don’t mean good in the TGIF sense, but rather, why do we call this particular holiday Good? In the Christian tradition, it’s the day that Christ offered up His life as a ransom for many, paying the penalty for sin. Yet while this should be considered good, I sometimes worry that our culture fails to recognize the truly good, the truly noble, the truly heroic in its midst.
When I was a little girl in school World War II was only thirty or forty years in the past. That made it a looming force in our culture, and so much of my novel reading and thinking between those important ages of 8 and 15 centred around World War II. We studied it in school. We met Holocaust survivors in assemblies. And I always wondered: would I have hidden Anne Frank? Would I have rescued Jewish babies out of Germany?
Regular people acted heroically then, at great cost.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of my heroes. Arrested for opposition to the Nazis, he was executed in a concentration camp two weeks before Germany capitulated. Yet his life, though cut short, still speaks. He was determined that his life would matter–that he would not watch injustice and do nothing, but that he would take whatever action was necessary to make a difference.
He said that our role is not simply to “bandage the victims under the wheel, but jam the spoke in the wheel itself.”
Emma Sky is a British anti-war activist who determined to live out this principle. She traveled to Iraq to protest Western involvement. Yet when she arrived, she spent time with U.S. troops and was tremendously impressed with their dedication and their commitment to bettering the lives of the people there. She ended up staying in Iraq, serving as civilian governor in Kirkuk and acting as advisor to key U.S. generals. She met real heroes, and it changed everything to her.
Today the military is one of the few avenues that offer up that example of real heroism, because in our everyday lives we don’t tend to live with threats of violence. Perhaps that’s why stories of mass shootings rivet us: we’re mesmerized by the horrific tragedy, but we’re also entranced because inevitably some become inadvertent heroes. Someone who woke up that morning, who had their cereal like everyone else does, who ran out the door breathless, a little bit late, in a split second made a decision that cost them their lives, but saved others.
An ordinary person does something extraordinary.
Isn’t that always good news, even if it’s intertwined with tragedy? Isn’t that what the human condition yearns for: a chance to transcend the everyday ordinariness of our quest for a better life, and instead see someone doing something selfless–something that enlarges the soul and makes our world that little bit less shallow, and much more meaningful.
Self-fulfillment is our god today.
We need to find ourselves, chase after happiness, and be true to our feelings. We are to toss aside that which makes us unhappy or guilt-ridden, and instead seek to maximize our own enjoyment. That, apparently, is the key to a good life.
Yet that does not sound terribly good to me. Sure, you can dress it up in pretty language and make it sound noble to be “true to oneself”. But that which is truly noble must also be truly selfless. And deep inside, we all know that.
I want to live in a world where the noble and the heroic are still celebrated, and this week, for a time, they will be.
For greater love has no one than this: that he would lay down his life for his friends.