Crime and Justice, Ethics and Morals, Human Wave

Big Damn Heroes

I’ve been lucky enough in my life to have met some men and women I’d call heroes. All of them, to a soul, would reject that appellation. That’s part of the charm, to be honest. Self-aware heroics… aren’t. 

They were, they will tell you if they are willing to talk about it at all, just doing what anyone else’d do. Or just doing their job. Just. 

There’s nothing simple at all about being willing to put your own self in danger in order to help others. To stand in the breach long enough for the innocent and guilty alike to reach safer ground. To leap out into the wilderness to face fires that sweep towards homes where children lie sleeping all unaware. 

To grab a pitifully small bag of gear, jump into a rusty pickup truck, and drive hell-for-leather over hundreds of miles of bad road. Knowing that you’re inadequate to the task that waits for you at the end, but that you won’t be alone, there are others converging on the crash site. That maybe, just maybe, these few will be sufficient to pull off a miracle. That you’re going to try, dammit, because no one should die alone on the side of the road far from home. 

None of them got up that morning thinking about being a hero. Some of them left parts of themselves lying on the ground mingled with the blood of those they couldn’t save. Some of them never really made it home again in spirit, even if the body staggered through the door mere hours later. Many, many of them got up the next morning and did it all over again. Because that’s what heroes do. It doesn’t end in blazing glory. Even if there is recognition of a single act that was above and beyond the call of duty, there’s another day, another call, another moment where they might or might not make a difference, but by god they will try. 

They will stumble, they will fall, but then they stagger onwards to the next time, the next day. They don’t give up. They simply do what is asked of them, and put themselves in danger while the world around them asks more than a human should have to give. We are all the better for such souls among us. 

Yesterday when I was calling for help for my friend and collaborator Lawdog, I mentioned that it took me from a childhood growing up around hometown heroes to truly understand the ramifications of having a big heart. Dad was a medic, a firefighter, and involved in search and rescue. I was also involved with SAR and met many in that environment who were humble to the point where you might find out about their heroic efforts only by accident. I’m not saying that all police, EMTs, or firefighters are saints. Far from it. I have a vantablack sense of humor for a reason, and, well, that started when I was a wee little blonde moppet. However… they make a choice. They have big hearts, and I mean that very literally. The human heart adapts to the use it is put to, just like any other muscle. Over time, the adrenaline rush of responding to calls, to exerting oneself to inhuman levels, this takes a toll on the heart. Dad had his first ‘cardiac event’ while doing ice rescue training. He jokes that he provided extra-good training that day, glossing over that a heart devoted to a life of serving others was literally giving out, having grown beyond the capacity of the body to support it. He is not alone in this. The mental is even harder to see than the physical effects. Yet, still, they continue to ‘do their job.’ 

Choosing to run into a fire, with the idea that you will be able to either put it out, or more likely in the case of wildfire fighter, deflect a raging inferno away from homes in danger? That requires a whole other set of impulses than an ordinary human being has. Choosing to spend your day responding to calls of criminal activity, with the idea of keeping a community safe? They don’t get paid enough (I’m not indulging in hyperbole here. My local tiny town police force pays barely more than the nearby ItchyPaw Panda Express pays it’s workers). Nor does this make every first responder a hero automatically. However, there are so many stories of going above and beyond. Because they are on the leading, bleeding edge of humanity, in the most literal senses. Yes, they just did their job. And that made all the difference. 

We are, as a society, in a bad situation. In the backlash against the idea of heroes, we have begun to undermine the idealism that drives some into these thankless professions.  I even touched on that above, in stating that not all of these men and women are saintly in their motivations and actions. We ask so much more of them, hold them to higher standards, and in recent decades? Have begun to pick away at them, looking for any flaws at all, so we can point and say aha! there are feet of clay down there. There is a balance between accountability, and support for the extraordinary circumstances they find themselves in. The situation Lawdog finds himself in stems from corruption and politics in small town policing and justice system. I’ve written at length about the plea bargain conundrum, which stemmed from good intentions and has evolved into a monstrous bullying situation that leads to the innocent being bludgeoned into admitting guilt they do not bear. The situations that rise to the mainstream media regarding use of force, which I hardly need to elaborate on here, they have been so much discussed… I know for a fact those led to demoralized law enforcement leaving the profession entirely. What’s left are not the cream of the crop. I don’t know if there is a solution for this. I do know that we don’t celebrate our heroes, so our children are poorer for growing up without role models. 

We have big damn heroes. Let’s talk about them, shall we? They might not like the attention, but they model the best of humanity. They are the core of community, showing what humans are capable of towards one another. Civilization rests not on government, but on this willingness to serve one another humbly, lovingly, and selflessly. 



24 thoughts on “Big Damn Heroes

  1. Over the years I’ve had many students who were volunteer firefighters and paramedics, some of them 18 years old. I made a point of mentioning it in class (always got permission, usually only one in any given class) so that the other students would recognize that they had peers who stepped up, went all in, and *still* earned good grades. It was very eye-opening for some (not that they’d admit to that) which is why I continued to mention it.

  2. Weirdly… a lot of the removing-heroes-from-media has been on the excuse of the larger-than-life being “too much,” that people can’t actually do that.

    But then they don’t replace them with the people they give as examples, or if they do it’s only until they can tear them down for being … whatever. The case of that kid who got a windfall after he jokingly asked for beer money and the Des Moines rag dug back to some joke he tweeted as a minor is a good enough shorthand; there’s never any hero that is good enough, and any fictional hero is too perfect to be allowed.

    It reminds me a lot of the hours long rant here:
    that boils down to “wow, they, uh, really just can’t grasp the idea of eing a hero?”

    1. Thank you Peter. I’d missed that post – it is acually predating when I came to know you – and it’s a profound one.

      And it seems that line from a TV show inspired more than one of us 🙂

  3. I had this talk with my son and some of his friends one day, about there being no heroes allowed in our broken-hearted culture, when they were 12. They had been taught about the evil acts of our heroes, and not of the nobility of transcending our flaws. The poor kids had no idea that they were being fed nihilism disguised as a ‘secret history’ that made them feel informed. It was depressing. My son talked about learning about the ‘evil’ Mother Theresa, who (gasp!) proselytized to poor people not of her faith while, oh, yes, also helping them. A little. It was a heartbreaking conversation but I think it was ultimately good, in that those boys learned they were being lied to at school.
    I actually met Mother Theresa and got a hug from her when I was 7 or 8. No doubt whatsoever even in my child’s mind that I was standing with a living saint.

    1. Yes, they jump at every chance to tear down any and all role models that kids might start to look up to. I see it even with the youtubers my own kids liked… and now for whatever reason they loathe, because the Internet told them to.

    2. It’s shocking to me that Mother Theresa was touted as someone that shouldn’t be looked up to. The first time I saw that I was convinced it was something from The Onion (this was before the Bee). They did the same with JPII, though that was almost certainly because he worked behind the scenes to topple communism.

        1. Less being up on Catholic things, than being in circles that viewed Christopher Hitchens as a respectable commentator rather than a very English, rather dotty, fanatic– one that was very fond of doing hot-takes that would make a shock jock smile in admiration.

          Got picked up in a couple of places, probably because the idea of a half-crippled little old lady picking up dying people from the literal gutter, washing human waste off of them, bathing their wounds and making it possible for them to die clean and comfortable with even a simple meal in their stomachs… it makes a person feel very small.

          1. Only thing I ever heard of about the argument, from the Catholic side, was Mother Theresa’s old covenant adding Hitchens to their prayers when they heard he was unwell, and that only came up because someone asked.

  4. Thanks for this, Cedar.
    This is all part of the progressive belief system, with nihilism at its center. It’s hard to be a hero when there’s nothing larger than oneself motivating you.

    These people inspire the lesser heroes. The man who gets up before the son and goes to the crappy job and works all day, just because he has a family to take care of. He hates the job and it’s killing his body, but there’s family to take care of, and he will not lay down and quit and let them suffer for his failure. Because it’s what needs to be done. He can look at those other heroes, who faced greater danger, and he can hump his ass to the factory line/delivery route/sales floor/road crew one more day, because it’s what needs to be done. He has to sacrifice for another to give them life, and he will because he can see it in bolder action around him.

    That’s how inspiration works.

    1. I think it goes hand in hand with the murder of beauty, and the negation of absolute truth. Without some core values, there’s nothing – which is nihilism. I fight it in my kids, but I’m just one small voice in a horde of others that babble in their ears every time they go online (and by kids, since I know I have new readers today, mine are 23, 21, 20, and 17).

      Just doing your job these days is inspiring, honestly.

  5. First Responders: There are basically two types of people that become First Responders (Police, Fire, Emergency Medical Services, Dispatch); 1) those that want to help, in any way they can, and 2) those looking for a power trip.

    Those that want to help are the ones that go out, day after day, and help the old lady carry her groceries up the stairs, or change a tire on the side of the road, etc. They come across someone in need and buy them a lunch, or drive them to the Salvation Army Store and buy them a winter jacket, out of their own money. I’ve had officers pool their money, send one down to Walmart while the others take care of the little kids, so the mother can get a few minutes peace, and then the one comes back from Walmart with two new child safety seats, a couple of kids coats and snow boots, so the single mom can keep her kids safe and warm as she tries to get to her parents’ house. And they never brag about it, never even mention it to other people.

    Those that are just looking for a power trip are usually easily spotted. The ones better at hiding it, or controlling it, are able to continue working because they can stay within the written rules. They cause trouble, but it’s hard to get rid of them as long as their conduct doesn’t cross any official lines. The ones who can’t control themselves are usually able to be weeded out early during training or probation.

    We need more of the former, and fewer of the latter.

    1. And there is a recognized disability regarding heart conditions for First Responders. The elevated risk of heart conditions is in the actuarial tables. And, at least 25 years ago when my grandfather had his heart attack, it was considered a work related incident even though he hadn’t been Sheriff for 20+ years, giving him a few extra dollars/month for disability.

Comments are closed.