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1. Definition of a Hero
According to the Concise Canadian Oxford Dictionary, a hero is “a person distinguished by courage, noble deeds, outstanding achievement, etc.” That is true and well, and I agree, but the word takes a special connotation to me. A hero is someone reliable who can be counted on to save others when they get themselves into a fix. They don’t need to be especially gifted or legendary like Achilles or Odysseus, but they should have the determination and the heart to help out. They should have done something recognizable, even on a small scale, to inspire and protect. They need not become symbols of self-sacrifice like Joan of Arc; in fact, it really would be better if they came back alive.
These people are at heart the heroes of all the stories, who push back evil armies, overthrow kings, trick witches, and slay dragons.
I look up to these people who save us when we’re at our worst and pull us back up again.
2. Potential Heroes
Most of the time, people just don’t get their chance to shine. Perhaps it’s better that way, since it means there’s nothing wrong to fix. I mean, how often do you see a damsel in distress nowadays? But there are people who would stand up if something did go wrong. I’m no cynic, and I believe in humanity’s ability to do good, so I call these people potential heroes. They are every bit as great as heroes; it’s just that they’ve never gotten the chance to prove it.
I had my own potential hero. He promised me that if I ever needed him, he’d be there, without fail. If he ever had the chance to shake the potential part out of his title, he would seize it and prove himself. But I hadn’t needed saving, and I wasn’t nearly crazy enough to get myself into trouble just to see if he’d come rescue me. Maybe I wasn’t entirely sure he would. The only monsters threatening me were the mental dragons born from my own insecurity. They guarded my ability to trust totally and unconditionally, which I had locked in the highest room of the tallest tower of my heart.
I think he almost reached it.
3. A Hero’s Choices
Being able to fight your way past hordes of enemies with brute strength isn’t nearly enough to earn you the title of a hero. And being a hero isn’t all glory either. Sacrifices come with the job, and sometimes, you find that you just can’t save everybody. That’s when you have to make a decision.
How often have heroes been forced to make hard choices? How many of them have had to be martyred in order to preserve the peace? How often have they had to choose between a person important to them and the general public? Or sometimes between two regular humans, both close to them? Whatever the case, the issue is their lack of ability. And that is understandable. They are heroes, not gods, and there is only so much they can do. They have to choose where they expend their effort with their brains and hearts, and their consciences plague them with regret and ‘what if’s’ afterwards.
He chose her over me. In the blink of an eye, without any angst-filled contemplation, or any conflict in his decision whatsoever. If something went wrong, he’d save her, not me. And even his conscience seemed to ignore me completely.
Of course, he still wasn’t a real hero, since neither me nor her actually needed saving.
4. My Hero
And now I’m standing on a bridge, leaning on the rail and looking down. The river is deep, and I can’t see much beyond the ripples at the surface. I heard someone drowned in it last year and was never found. It seems almost sinister. If the water was crystal-clear, would I be able to see his cold corpse on the bottom? The thought makes me shudder.
I lean a bit further, testing the old rail’s strength. And if it suddenly collapses? It’s steel though, so that’s unlikely. But what if some villain with questionable motives shoves me into the water? What would happen then?
He wouldn’t come. He isn’t my potential hero, not anymore. Okay, so that’s a bit unfair. He wouldn’t even know about it. But would he care once he found out?
Had anyone cared about the drowned kid? There must have been purely human sympathy from newspaper-readers such as myself, but did he have anyone who would have loved him enough to take his place? I don’t even remember his name. I do hope he had someone who would have liked to be his hero.
Would anyone come if I fall? I stop my dangerous rocking back and forth; I hadn’t realized that I was doing it. My subconscious was considering falling, I guess. There’s a big difference between claiming to be a potential hero and actually being a hero, I realize now. Who would actually risk their own well-being for someone else? For me?
It’s a good thing I can swim, because if anything happens, I just might have to be my own hero.