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Find the heroes you need

The Netflix movie about Michelle Obama has just been released, and I cried watching the trailer.

Like millions of others, I miss her presence in the White House. Watching the film’s trailer made me realize how hungry I am, starved really, for true heroes with her grace who stand up for others.

When I say the word hero, you may think first of those action-heroes featured in tales of explorers, mountain climbers, car racers, commanders, and the like. They lend excitement to the big screen.

Today, though, I’m drawn to heroes willing to give to others what they’ve discovered for themselves.

Thousands of everyday heroes have stepped forward to address the pandemic. They’re cleaning subway cars, delivering food, supporting the elderly, and working the frontlines of health care as they fight COVID-19. They’re working round the clock in laboratories, sewing masks, or taking care of their families through difficult situations.

You might be one of them. These heroes inspire just by doing their work without grabbing for glory.

They’ve caused me to see the word “hero” in a new light.

Origins of the word

The word hero is often used in its 14th century meaning, “man (sic) of superhuman strength or physical courage.” If you trace the word further back, it comes originally from the Proto-Indo-European root “ser” which means “to protect.”

It shares a root with the name of the goddess Hera, who protected and safeguarded the h/earth.

I’m particularly interested in those public figures brave enough to share their stories, especially if they live in the public eye where they’re bound to encounter misunderstandings and be attacked by malicious trolls. I look for those willing to crack open the door so life can be better for others and the planet. I look for heroes who didn’t come into life as though entitled, and haven’t forgotten those for whom life has not worked out,

Four women who move me

Four women stand out for me, among the many worthy of being acknowledged.

Two changed the world with their generosity and candor in sharing from their lives as African-American women: Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey. One, the youthful Greta Thunberg, surprised the world last week by donating the $100,000 prize money she won for her environmental activism to help children affected by the coronavirus.

A fourth, the colorful pop star Lady Gaga, blew me away in a conversation with Oprah in which she talked openly about being raped. She uses her fame to help others who are feeling weighed down with shame. In April, she and the organization Global Citizen produced the live-streamed mega-concert “One World Together at Home.” Numerous musical legends contributed their talents to promoting the show’s message of support for frontline workers and encouragement to shelter-in-place. Gaga is a major philanthropist committed to kindness.

From hero-worship to hero-respect

These women aren’t looking for hero-worship.

Hero worship is looking at someone with adulation, thinking “They’re better than me.” or “They’ve got what I don’t have.” Hero worship can leave you feeling diminished, forgetting the strength that lives in you.

Real heroes remind you of your own innate capacities to rise above limitations and bring your goodness to the world.

Learning about these women helps me become bigger.

As Michelle Obama wrote in her blockbuster memoir, Becoming:

“For every door that’s been opened to me, I’ve tried to open my door to others. And here is what I have to say, finally: Let’s invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us. Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same. It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.”

Hero-respecting is when your admiration for someone else leads you to discover what you carry within yourself.

Hero-respecting can help us discover what Abraham Lincoln once called “the better angels of our nature.”

Lincoln’s words endure

In his first Inaugural address, President Lincoln offered words that are hauntingly appropriate to our times.

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

True heroes protect the h/earth and safeguard what is good.

They bring people together and encourage us to remember values like beauty, truth-telling, friendship, compassion, and justice.

Today, the United States is at risk, not just from the coronavirus, but from selfish collective bullying that scoffs at the need to safeguard the common good.

Now, more than ever, we need to cheer for our better angels, the ones that would pull us together, not apart.

I can’t wait to see the movie about Michelle Obama. I’m going to make a big batch of popcorn, cuddle in bed, and soak up her wisdom.

I look forward to hearing words like:

“You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.”
― Michelle Obama

She’s right, of course. Real heroes and real courage are contagious.

6 Responses

  1. Every since I read her biography a little over 30 years ago, I have been a huge admirer of Harriet Tubman. The qualities of selflessness, spirituality, deep faith, and incredible courage in her were truly astonishing. The fact that her beginnings were so humble and so harsh highlight for me the beauty of her character. Talk about overcoming adversity! And it was through dedicating her life to helping others that she was able to become so strong and resilient. when my daughter was in third grade she read a very good youth biography of Harriet (written by Ann Petry), and she was so inspired that she wrote a ballad to Harriet which she included in the book report that she had written for school. This same daughter has dedicated her adult life to helping others as a psychiatric nurse. Harriet was her inspiration.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing that Lee. I’m an admirer of Harriet Tubman as well. It is particularly moving to me to learn how a biography of such a wonderful American hero could inspire a young girl and even change the course of her life. Such a great example.

  2. So true. Because she is such a great example, when I was teaching American History to 8th graders I always used Harriet’s biography, told over a number of days, as a vehicle to bring the years (and the issues) leading up to and after the Civil War. As she lived a long, active, and very serviceful life (92 years I believe). it was possible to bring much of 19th century history through her story. And students were predictably riveted.

  3. I just finished watching Becoming with Michelle Obama. It is inspiring. She’s definitely a hero. I appreciate who she is and how she shares herself and thoughts with others. She’s and example of a wise woman. People who inspire me are people who know and love themselves. Then share what they’ve learned. Also people who are selfless. People who love what they have to offer humanity and all other living beings.

  4. I love this Sally!! These 4 amazing women are my heroes too! I would also add Alicia Keys!! Interesting that her song is the soundtrack for the Becoming trailer. Her new memoir is fabulous! Xo

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