A few weeks ago I went to see Hunger Games (again) with my kids. It was opening day in the dollar theatre, and we got the last seats. The movie had already started and after my eyes adjusted to the darkness I found seats for my kids– one here, one there, one Way Over There. After hunting, I found the one remaining seat. It was next to two guys who were being weird about letting me sit by them. First they said I couldn’t sit there. I insisted, in whispers, that it was the last seat, and they still refused. I got a manager and they relented, but gave each other looks like this was some huge problem. I wondered if I’d forgotten deodorant.
Right before Katnis blew up the food supplies, the older of the two got up and left. And I had a horrible mental flash to the Colorado shootings at Batman. Holy cow, I thought. He could be going to get a slew of weapons to shoot us all during the explosion scene! Maybe he needed this end seat for his plan. And I messed things up by sitting here! I’ll be the first one he shoots! I started making plans to get out of the way and keep my kids from being killed.
Ok, so apparently the news reports have been affecting me. But honestly, it’s not so much the guys doing the shooting that I think about, as the ones who died to save others. The men who threw themselves on top of their girlfriends and took the bullets themselves. The heros.
Every culture has a concept of the hero. Every culture tells stories about them. Some give them medals, others honor them as saints, some even make them into gods.
But I wonder, what makes a person a hero in the first place?
Studies have been done on this subject, and several articles and papers written. Not surprisingly, people have different opinions about what makes a hero. Almost everyone agrees, though, that being willing to die for someone else is a qualifier.
But what about smaller things? We had a lesson in church today about how through small and simple things, great things are brought to pass. And I thought about small and simple heros.
Jesus was a hero in my book, but he didn’t start by dying for anyone. He helped at a wedding. He listened when people talked. He forgave. Mother Theresa was a hero to many, not because she died for the people of India, but because she did thousands of small acts of kindness. Buddah went out of his way to help those who needed help, one small service at a time, and his actions inspire millions still.
But there are smaller heros. Like my son-in-law, Mike, who gets up quietly after dinner and begins washing the dishes with a smile. There are the guys on campus who open a door for one person, and then stand there, holding the door for 20 more students. There are people on the freeway who slow a bit to let a stranger change lanes, and the person who asks, when I struggle to carry groceries to my car, if I could use a hand. There’s the girl who talks to me in a friendly way before class, and the old woman who shuffles up to me after church and says with a twinkle in her eye that her name is Sister Smith and she likes my dress.
I don’t think any of these people know how much they affect my life. I think about them long after they’ve gone home, I appreciate the happiness they brought into my day, and wonder if I helped anyone have a better day by being there for them.
Studies have been done on heros, usually posthumously, since by the time someone’s been declared a hero, they’re often dead. But occasionally, as in the case of the officer at the Sikh temple shooting, a hero survives. And here, in a nutshell, is what the studies and interviews have found.
People who risk their lives for someone else have a much higher than average rate of selfless service than those who don’t. These are people who were uncommonly good at helping others, who were noticed for their kindness even before the huge act of heroism. It’s true that many of these reports are coming after the hero died, and people may be remembering the good times more than the bad, but I really think that if Joe Schmoe The Hero had been a jerk his whole life, people would comment on how uncharacteristic his final act was. While instead we get reports on how he was always willing to help others, and how this final act was very much in character.
I think heros grow, like everything else, one small inch, one act, one word, one smile at a time. It’s not the dying that made them a hero. They became heros along the way, while doing small but heroic things to add happiness to the lives of those around them. Dying just showed the rest of the world who they had become on the inside.
I want to add happiness to the world. I want to be a hero. Not in the dying sense, but in the living, small-acts-of-service kind of way. Because really, the world could use more heros.
Oh- and by the way- the guy in the movie theatre apparently just needed to use the restroom. =)