I’m slogging through the new Kevin Hearne book. Yes, you heard me, it’s a bit of a slog. It’s not his fault. Really. It’s just that I love my fantasy, but only the paranormal and urban variety. Mr. Hearne has gone and written himself a book of high fantasy—think The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. And while I loved the George R. R. Martin books (reinforced by the brilliance of the HBO series), the rest of the pure fantasy genre leaves me as cold as winter at the Wall in GoT. First off, the usually oversized cast of characters is hard to keep track of, especially because of the second reason I struggle with this genre: the unpronounceable and difficult-to-remember names. There are no Toms, Dicks or Harrys to be found. Nope, we’ve got Dervan du Alöbar, Gorin Mogen, and Nel Kit ben Sah. I have no mnemonics for any of these beyond the Star of David—Mogen David that is. L’chaim.
Anyhoo… back to Mr. Hearne’s book, A Plague of Giants (cool title, I admit). So why do I keep reading a book that hasn’t yet grabbed me by the metaphorical balls, more than 15% into it? First, because Kevin Hearne wrote the Iron Druid series, one of my all-time favorites. And second, because Kevin Hearne writes about deep themes and important ideas. And he hasn’t disappointed with his latest. At least through the first 15%, I’ve already read several passages that have inspired me to think. Today, I’m thinking about what it means to be a hero.
One of the characters in A Plague of Giants, Dervan, a wounded soldier, talks about the heroism of the warrior, who knows that death may result from defending an idea or the safety of a loved one. But there are other kinds of heroism too, says the wounded soldier who can no longer go to war. He can still make other sacrifices that require great heroism.
He asks, “The warrior and the worker both make sacrifices. Who, then, is more heroic?” The fighter who faces death head on? Or, the worker who toils in a soul sucking job for the benefit of her family and the hope that her progeny’s future will eclipse her own? Dervan says he’s not qualified to judge. I’m not either.
I saw something on Facebook denigrating Colin Kaepernick for taking a knee to protest racial discrimination. It was juxtaposed with a photo of a Marine in dress uniform, the gist of the caption indicating that only the military man was heroic. I disagree. Whether we think Kaepernick was right, wrong or practical, what he did took guts. He’s currently unemployed. A sacrifice any way you slice it. Soldiers go to war and sometimes die, or come back wishing they had. Another kind of sacrifice. I’m not going to get into the debate about standing for the national anthem except to say that from my perspective, American soldiers fight for the right of all of us to make our own decisions on the subject.
And while death is certainly more permanent than unemployment, it remains true that whenever we overcome our survival instincts to do something for what we think is bigger than we are, it’s heroic. Not all of us have had an opportunity to be heroic in the way of warriors. But most of us have faced situations where we could be the hero. Or not. We often think of heroism as the embrace of physical risks. But it takes a hero to stand up to emotional bullies as well. I’m confident that all of us can think of a time or two where we protected someone weaker, or called someone on an offensive joke or remark. Or stood up to a boss who took our professional courtesy as a sexual invitation. All of these are quiet forms of heroism.
I don’t believe Colin Kaepernick understood that he was starting a movement. Neither did Rosa Parks. Or Mahatma Ghandi. They did what they thought was right despite their own best interests. All of those who get up every day and do what needs to be done without fanfare or any expectation of recognition are heroes. Everyday heroes. Quiet. Unsung. The doctors, teachers, first responders, civil servants, public defenders, counselors. Mr. Rogers’ “helpers,” the ones he told us to look for during a disaster. The ones who shield others with their bodies during a mass shooting. The ones who rushed the hijackers on the doomed flight. Those who do what needs to be done at considerable cost to themselves. Heroes all. I’m holding out for them, and I’m rarely disappointed.