HOLDING OUT FOR A HERO
Humanity loves and longs for true heroes. One of the traits present in older literary texts is man’s infatuation with heroes and heroines. Writing, theater, folk lore, and contemporary entertainments are replete with epic stories of daring rescues, challenges, triumphs, and tragedies. The Oscar Award ceremony recently highlighted this fascination with the heroic in the montage of hero scenes presented during the program. (To see video follow this hyperlink or enter the URL in your browser: http://screencrush.com/heroes-montage-2014-oscars/)
Based on evidence gleaned from ancient texts, such as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and Virgil’s Aeneid, hero worship has been around for ages. Wayfaring wanderers facing trials and tasks that no man could overcome, except by the intervention of a supernatural force, is an element that appears frequently in the lines of these stories. Mortals capable of performing tasks often reserved for the immortal is a recurring refrain that captures the hope of humanity that man may one day have the potential to rise to a higher level of experience in life.
Interplay of the Mortal and Immortal
Ironically, the same immortal powers who determine to aid the mortals in conquest are also often to blame for the hardships that they encounter. As Penelope and Telemachus pined for the husband and father, they assumed long dead, Odysseus was prevented from returning to his beloved land and family by the vengeful machinations of the god Poseidon and the lustful desire of Calypso. Instead, he was left wistfully weeping for home upon a cliff towering above the far off island. Eventually the other gods take pity on the forlorn hero, because of his courage and honor, by devising a plan to return him home despite the intentions of the offended deity. In addition, through a series of events and challenges, orchestrated by the Olympians, Telemachus grows from a scared and bullied boy into a strong and mature man.
Ultimately, the shipwrecked warrior is allowed to return to his home and family in Ithaca. Secretly returned to his family and disguised by the goddess Athena, Odysseus exacts his revenge, slaying the squatting suitors who had designs on claiming his rightful place in his home and with his wife. Because of his honor, his desire for family and country, and his bravery in the face on impossible obstacles, Odysseus is a hero for the ages.
The World Loves Hero Stories
Whether originally told in the lands of the Greek, Hebrew, Asian, Chinese, Roman, German, Scandinavian, Celtic, Australian, or American cultures, possible sources of hero stories circle the globe. From Hercules in Roman mythology, Thor among the Norse gods, American legends and tall tales of the men in the Wild West, and even the comic adventures of Crocodile Dundee from the back country of Australia, there are myriad stories of conquest, betrayal, heroic deeds, and warrior songs. Plentiful are the romantic fictions where the hero saves the day and woos the fair damsel’s heart. Readers of all ages and cultures seem to long for these stories of men and women who are larger than life.
The Bible offers hero stories of men who performed miraculous feats through the agency of God’s presence and power of His spirit. One such hero would be mighty Samson (Judges 13-16). Samson was born different and set apart for special assignment by God. Blessed with great strength, Samson won many battles and brought great victories against the Philistines. Samson, however, also lost battles that every human faces. The battle against pride and self-aggrandizement comes, and Samson falls. The battle of lust and sensual desire comes, and Samson falls. The wounds of those battles leave Samson bald, blind, and bound. In the end, however, the hero rises one last time in a feat of strength and total sacrifice and his final performance in the closing act of the drama of the hero’s life “brings down the house.”
Are There Still Heroes in Contemporary Culture?
Bonnie Tyler’s 1984 hit from the soundtrack of the movie “Footloose” reveals how this ancient infatuation with the characteristics of gods and heroes continues as she asks,
“Where have all the good men gone
And where are all the gods?
Where’s the street-wise Hercules
To fight the rising odds?
Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed?
Late at night I toss and turn and dream of what I need”
(Steinman & Pitchford, 1984).
Ms. Tyler was holding out for a hero. According to her query, the traits of these mortals who defy the odds, and occasionally the gods, appeared to be lacking in the world. Her song is at the same time a mournful lament and a fervent plea.
Where have all the good men gone? Certainly, if one is looking for “white knights on fiery steeds,” there may be a lack of that specific display of heroism. The deeds of valor that the ancient world of myth and legend applaud do not regularly appear on the broadcasts of the daily cable news program.
I contend, however, that heroism is not a misty image in ancient literature. True heroes are alive in our modern world. They face obstacles and rise above them. Life’s circumstances challenge them, and they meet the challenge. Disaster strikes and they respond. Terror bears its fearsome fangs and they answer, sacrificially accepting its sting.
On a sunny Tuesday morning in early September, Todd Beamer boarded a plane in Newark, NJ bound for San Francisco. Beamer and the other 37 passengers on that flight, along with several crewmembers, had no idea that they would soon face a terrible challenge and have to make a critical decision that would result in a high cost, but an even greater value in terms of innocent lives spared.
Shortly after taking off that morning, hijackers took control of that flight and three others over the United States. Within minutes, the hijackers intentionally flew two of those planes into both Twin Towers in New York City. A third was purposely crashed into the side of The Pentagon in Washington, DC. News of the events that morning reached the passengers on Beamer’s flight through telephone communication. It became clear that their flight would also be used as a weapon against an unsuspecting target on the ground. Determined “not be pawns in the hijackers’ suicidal plot” (McKinnon, 2001) Beamer and the other hostages rose up and fought their captors. One can only speculate what exactly transpired in the plane. What we do know is that the aircraft, initially aimed at a target in Washington, potentially the White House, began to fly erratically through the sky before mysteriously crashing in a field in Pennsylvania, killing everyone aboard, far from the terrorist’s intended target.
The tragic events of 9/11 are etched in the memories of all who endured that terrifying day in American history, riveted to the news programs that brought us the latest details. Beamer’s last recorded words, “Let’s Roll!” captured the nature of a hero’s heart and garnered the attention and affection of the world. His words became a slogan that characterized the renewed sense of patriotism and rally cry for action felt throughout the country. Indeed, the passengers of flight 93 who sacrificed themselves to fight back earned a seat at the hero’s banquet, along with the many others who acted bravely and sacrificed so much to give others a chance to live on that day.
Recognizing the Everyday Heroes
Odysseus and Aeneas demonstrate impossible feats and amazing displays of strength and courage However, these actions are not the only traits that make a person a hero. One can see true heroism in the ordinary lives of people who live lives with integrity, honor, humility, and service. If you ask the family of Todd Beamer, they will tell you that he was a hero long before he gained notoriety by his sacrifice on 9/11. According to Beamer’s wife, Lisa, her family was well aware of the “kind of person Todd was. We know he’s in heaven. He was saved. Just knowing that when the crisis came up he maintained the same character we all knew, it’s a testament to what real faith means” (McKinnon, 2001).
There are often simple acts of bravery, service and sacrifice that we take for granted. A person reaching out to an outcast is a hero. A student who confronts to the school bully is a hero. A first responder holding the hands of a terrified passenger in a wrecked car is a hero. A person who holds the door for another with an armload of groceries is a hero. The donor whose gift of blood saves the life of a disaster victim is a hero. Heroic deeds do not have a standard they must measure up to in order to be considered heroic. These actions simply have to be viewed as heroic by the one who benefits from the act, and others who bear witness to it.
The World is Still Holding out for a Hero
Why are stories about heroes and heroines so popular still today? Perhaps it is because the world still needs heroes. Humanity still longs for someone heroic to rise up and claim victory. As long as tragedy continues to be a part of the human experience, humanity will long for, and even create stories about, heroes.
This very drive and hunger in humankind for a hero is a trait that God can use to draw men to the greatest hero ever to live and die, Jesus Christ. This heavenly Hero wrestled with the power of sin in the path of the full fury of the one true and holy God and was victorious, gaining, through His sacrifice, eternal life in heaven for all who would believe. If someone is going to hold out for a hero, invite them to look to the bloodied cross, the empty grave, and the heavenly throne. Invite them to look to Jesus!
McKinnon, J. (2001) The phone line from Flight 93 was still open when a GTE operator heard Todd Beamer say: ‘Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.’ Printed in the Post-Gazette. September 16, 2001. Retrieved from: http://old.post-gazette.com/headlines/20010916phonecallnat3p3.asp
Romano, N. (2014). Heroes Montage From the 2014 Oscars retrieved from http://screencrush.com/heroes-montage-2014-oscars/ on March 25, 2014.
Steinman, J. & Pitchford, D. (1984). Holding out for a Hero [Recorded by Bonnie Tyler]. On Footloose Soundtrack. Washington, DC: Columbia Records.