What Does it Mean to be a Hero?

My 13yo son asked me a question last night. He turned to me and asked, “What does it mean to be a hero? Do you have to save someone’s life to be a hero?”

I think it was the thoughtfulness of the question and the ideas it brought to mind that made my own eyes water. I told him that just lifting someone else’s spirits can make you a hero. His whole face brightened, and he said, “Really?”

I told him that if you ever see a friend who is really down and having a bad day, and you give them a moment’s reprieve from their feelings by laughing with them somehow, or reminding them how special they are, or helping them look forward to something you know they are anticipating – you have just been that person’s hero.

He smiled with his whole face and thanked me. I guess he already saw himself in that answer and knew that he has hero all over him.

Then later, picking up my 16yo from work, I suddenly remembered the story from back in the day when I lived in the Bay Area during the earthquake. A huge section of the Bay Bridge just fell in, and cars went flying off the second story of the roadway onto the road below. At one point there was a school bus teetering on the edge and people were trying to keep it from going over.

In that terror, I remember hearing about kids who lived in the Projects (very low income housing) climbing up the bridges to get up to the roadway to help people. I remember crying from the beauty of this – kids who had barely anything, risking their lives to help others. It just came naturally to them. They saw others in trouble and didn’t think of anything but how to help.
I think this comes more naturally to younger people. Sometimes, we older ones consider the cost more before offering help. Or we’ve been burned in the past, or it’s just too painful to care. Kids just jump in.

This morning I will tell my 13yo about that story. I don’t think being a hero always involves risk, but it involves thinking of others, and knowing there is a problem, and wanting to find ways to help. It does involve a little selflessness and the ability to empathize, and that he has in spades.

I wonder – when have you seen your boy doing something noble, something heroic, something small even, but helpful, and how can we boost their thoughts of themselves by reminding them of the hero that already lies within?

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