What is a hero? It’s been on my mind. Maybe because I am teaching legends and folktales to my students and heroes are a big part of them. I watched Spidey and just recently it was Mother’s Day and Teacher’s Appreciaton Week. I have heroes on my mind. I do not think I am the only one though.
Why else are their dozens and dozens of films and TV shows on the superheroes and their counter villains? Is it because we want to pretend for a moment that they are people who good enough and strong enough to stamp out evil? Is it because for two hours we want to forget that many of the people we want to look up to are corrupt, narcissistic, and tell us forget about role modeling? It seems that we live in a we-can-do-whatever-we-want-whenever-we-want world. Do we create heroes, because there is nobody around us to do so? It is a rather depressing picture. Then I thought about all the stories I have covered with my students; “Chenoo”, a story about a girl who turns a monster into a man with her cleverness and courage; “Yen-Shen”, a Chinese Cinderella story about a girl who treats a magical fish kindly; and “Sootface”, another Cinderella story about a girl who gives the truth on the material of an invisible hunter’s sword (a little fantastical, but they beat the original with creative twists). I told my students that these cultures create these legends/folktales with characters that exhibited the qualities they valued: honesty, beauty, cleverness, kindness. I thought about what we Americans value. I immediately thought the obvious. Get rich, be happy, happy. Live in the moment. Be yourself. The mantras that seem to be repeated over and over and over. . . Then you have the superhero movies that have characters that sacrifice, protect and struggle through their questions and humanity to do what is right. There is this scene in the recent Spiderman where Spiderman drops down from the sky to save a little boy from some bullies. He fixes the little boy’s science project and tells him how awesome his invention is. Simple heroic actions that changed that boy forever.
Why can’t we have a Spiderman in our world? We do. Sometimes we just forget about the heroes and the small actions that can be and are really heroic. We forget about the man who jumps off his motorcycle to push a broke down car of the road. We forget about the mysterious people who occasionally pick up the trash in are neighborhood or grab a fleeing two year old from the path of a car. A kind word or a smile can change a life. Maybe not in a flash or Batman or Spiderman style, but it can still make a difference. When I get a free Chik-fil-A sandwhich from Chik-fil-a just because, I feel like the worker who gave it was definitely a hero (okay maybe they did it for business, but still. . .) I know it sounds cliché, but making a difference with a small thoughtful act is being a hero. When one of my students shared his thoughts and I told him that his words were wise for a 6th grader, his whole face lighted up like a Christmas tree. Right then I knew I helped in some small way for a moment. You and I don’t have to wear a Batman cape or the blue and red to impact someone. Sometimes it is a matter of pausing for one second to think of someone else. So in the words of the Great Dr. Seuss, I say: