Resolve: (noun) firm determination to do something. (online dictionary)
My idea of what comprises a hero has evolved throughout my life. At first, with the advent of television and movie attendance, my heroes appeared in black and white with names like Flash Gordon, Tarzan, the Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, Superman and Sky King. Early comic books brought more than color to the world of heroes, as Superman, the Green Lantern, Batman and others fought the bad guys, and never seemed to lose.
As I reached adolescence my version of hero worship trended toward living people. We read the stories of wartime leaders like Roosevelt and Churchill: people who took their leadership responsibilities seriously and were willing to make great sacrifices on behalf of the common good. We heard about war heroes and military leaders, marveling at their bravery and perseverance, and a few of them entered politics when their wars were over.
(Photo credit. John F. Kennedy Library)
A prior distinguished military career was a key attribute in the backgrounds of presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, and for awhile their example made it possible to think that most of the people we elected were heroes. It only took a few bad apples to spoil that impression, as I learned that the simple act of being elected was not a good gauge of the qualities of the individual. Status as heroes could only be granted by a person's actions, not the level of the office they were elected to hold.
Approaching adulthood, I learned that there were many individuals who were heroes in their own right although they never sought the riches and fame that came with an elective office. Those who defied the Third Reich and saved thousands of their countrymen during the Holocaust, often at the expense of their own lives, might be relatively anonymous but most have eventually been recognized for their heroic deeds. The same can be said for those who were in the front rows of the civil rights marches in the South, putting their lives at risk. Whether innocent schoolgirls or civil rights workers, their heroism in standing up for their rights and seeking equality, and their eventual deaths, made the world a better place for those whose rights they sought to establish.
My spinal cord injury in 1988 had a profound impact on my definition of what comprises a hero, as I entered a strange new world of disability and began to face the dozens of roadblocks and challenges that most people with disabilities encounter on a daily basis. I sought out people in similar circumstances, and met even more who were considered to have less function, and they proved to be the most valuable resource as I worked through my various levels of recovery. During that process I heard about even more people who had dedicated their lives to trying to eliminate the stigma, mistreatment and discrimination that seem to accompany the presence of a disability. Such barbaric practices as segregation through "special education," institutionalization and electroshock
treatments continue today, despite their efforts, but that has not deterred those with the resolve to continue the battle against discrimination wherever it is found.
(Photo from 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest')
There are many heroes who have dedicated their lives to getting laws passed that will enhance the quality of life and eliminate discrimination by creating rights for people with disabilities. It has become clear to me that these individuals and others who have been deemed heroes through their sacrifices must have extraordinary levels of resolve i
n order to accomplish their goals. In case that term doesn't have much meaning for you, there are similar words that might sound more familiar. Perhaps you have heard one of these other terms used to identify the traits of whoever is a hero in your world: Decisiveness, resolution, commitment, stubbornness, determination, stick-to-it-iveness, persistence, grit, strength, adaptability, or drive.
Do these types of individuals still exist? Absolutely. People like Bob Kafka, Stephanie Thomas, Judy Heumann, Marca Bristo, Kathy Martinez, Jan Garrett, John Kemp, Marilyn Golden, Kelly Buckland, Mike Oxford, Lex Frieden a
nd too many others to list here have been on the front lines representing our interests and fighting for our rights for decades. They have not asked for much but our support in return, but we owe them a lot.
As another excellent example, if you don't already follow her, I would like to introduce my fellow Reeve Foundation blogger Jennifer Longdon
. Paralyzed in a drive-by shooting over a decade ago, she has become a powerful spokesperson for the need to establish some realistic gun laws in this country.
Despite continuing physical and medical setbacks requiring hospitalization, Jen has traveled extensively for media interviews, speaking engagements and to meet with state and national leaders who have the power to bring about that change. While most in her condition would find it more convenient to stay home, conserve their energy and eliminate the risks to their health that travel brings, Jennifer will not slow down as long as she has the energy to continue.
In my mind, she is a great example of someone who exhibits and practices all of those traits that comprise a hero. Because of the many people like her, I am far more satisfied with my current definition of hero as compared to those of my youth. How do your heroes compare with my definition?
© 2013 Michael Collins