Last week on the Driscoll Bridge, my office offered passers-by the opportunity to create "Valentines for Vets". Supplies were available to create "custom-made" valentines that were, at the end of the week, delivered to the VA Hospital here in Denver. The Chaplain at the hospital then delivered them to patients on Valentine's Day. At our end of the process, we had no idea who'd be the recipient (although several students specified that their valentine went to a veteran of a specific branch of the military). All the valentine-makers knew was that their card would be given to someone who had made the sacrifice of serving our country in the military.
As I said, we had supplies available: stickers (hearts, flags, smiley faces, stars, patriotic symbols, etc.), different colored pens and markers, and several rubber stamps. There were several stamps with the theme of "Thanks". But one stamp received particular attention. It said:
HERO: An ordinary person facing extraordinary circumstances
and acting with courage, honor, and self-sacrifice.
On the front of the card, on the inside, on the envelope -- that stamp (along with one or more of the "thank you" stamps) was probably the most-used single "craft supply". Notable!
Equally notable were the number of folks who, when told where the cards were going, were even MORE eager to make a card than they were when they simply saw the table. There was clearly something compelling about honoring the men and women who served, and who were now at the VA Hospital. I particularly enjoyed hearing some of them say, "Who wouldn't want to make a valentine for a Vet?" All told, in 4 hours, we had about 45 - 50 cards made.
Certainly the veterans who walked by were very appreciative of what we were doing. But those who were making the cards -- especially those who chose the "Hero" stamp -- were making a statement that we need heroes, and that we need to honor heroes. We are, I think, right now a culture that wants something substantive for which to cheer. I think that is one reason why we were (and continue to be) so captivated by what's happening in the Middle East. Common people are rising up and demanding a better life, a more just government. And they are doing that at some peril to themselves (as I was writing this, the NY Times afternoon update appeared in my email with news of crackdowns and protests in Yemen, Bahrain and Libya!). The photo above is of Egyptian Christians linking hands in Cairo's Tahrir Square, PROTECTING Muslims at their daily prayers during the demonstrations. Common cause crossing religious boundaries. In my mind, heroes.
Who ARE our heroes? Do we even think that way anymore? I just did a web search on the words "hero" and "heroes". The first page of results for "heroes" pointed to sites devoted to the television series "Heroes". The first page of results for "hero" had more pointers to articles about that same series, as well as a movie entitled "Hero" than it did to articles about virtuous, brave, people. Is the "heroic" going the way of the "virtuous" or . . . the dodo?
I really don't think so. But, like honor, or virtue, or courage, the heroic isn't regularly discussed. And maybe it should be; we might start feeling better about the world in which we live. Maybe simply recalling who are, or were, OUR own, individual, heroes and sharing conversation about them would be a way to start a revolution. Or by watching for, and honoring, random acts of heroism -- like stopping on the bridge and making valentines for vets.
*With apologies to Tina Turner.