Tiny word, huge meaning, millions of connections and a billion reasons it’s a noun thrown around without being meant literally.
When you look up the definition of the word it’s realistic to assume that not everyone can be a true hero.
However, when you see the everyday man creating mini miracles, acts of heartfelt kindness and massive strength in the face of adversity, showing compassion and dignity, building bridges and connecting us all, you realise that the title of ‘Hero’ is actually open to anyone.
I believe that however small the act of ‘heroism’ seems, the impacts can always be huge, and that’s why it’s important to acknowledge the act and the person. Knowing you’re having a positive impact on peoples lives isn’t just mentally rewarding for you, it’s rewarding for them too. There’s huge comfort in being a beacon of hope, belief and positivity.
Heroes are highly valuable.
Who are the heroes?
I immediately think of Marvel characters when I hear the word. Iron Man is my first thought, followed quickly by Captain America and then Black Widow is snapping at their heels in third place. The DC characters are up there too. Superted, The Powerpuff Girls, Bananaman and Batfink are a few of the bigger names from my childhood (I’d love to hear more if you can remember any!).
Collectively I guess we’d call these ‘Superheroes’, but when I was a kid they were the only ‘people’ I thought were achieving truly incredible things. As I grew up I started to realise they weren’t alone.
Heroes are roaming the streets around us, and we don’t even see them.
Heroes come in many forms and hold a place of pride in your heart because of the unbelievable level of love, generosity, energy, genius, inventiveness, bravery and / or care that they show. There’s often a kicker to their heroism, sometimes in very trying circumstances, sometimes in a mediocre environment and sometimes whilst navigating a hell-scape. You don’t need to fit into any specific category to be a hero. Many heroes are unassuming, surprised people who believe they are ‘just doing their job’, ‘doing something they’re used to’ or ‘doing what anyone would do’.
The mindset alone is heroic.
What makes a hero?
As the years have passed my ideas have changed. After the cartoon superheroes I mentioned earlier became too childish for me, my heroes normally formed part of a boyband whose only real skill was the ability to gyrate, flex or just stand up, in time with shit music.
By the time the 90s were behind me my heroes became more personal. Kylie, Robbie and Ronan weren’t doing enough to earn a place in the photo pocket of my Accessorize purse. My heroes became friends and colleagues, but not for reasons of real respect or pride, oh no. It was the person who downed the most vodka and red bull on Saturday, the girlfriend who held my hair while I was sick or maybe the mate who got me cigarettes when I was skint. Reading this, I think my teenage ‘hero’ may have simply been booze. Like I say, I had no real standards at all and at this point I guess I didn’t need a REAL hero in my life because I spent most of it tired, dazed, hungover and/or pissed.
It wasn’t until my late 20s, the earliest years of the ‘noughties’, when real heroes, those truly deserving of the title, became a part of my life. People I looked up to for overcoming adversity, achieving something truly admirable or simply persevering with their dreams and beliefs. Grafters. Believers. Thinkers. Doers.
As my glazed eyes became clear again and the hangover ended because I simply couldn’t bear another drop (I’ve been booze-free for many years now), I started seeing that people my age weren’t just getting pissed – some of them were achieving outstanding things in their careers and personal life too. I was a waitress earning minimum wage with only a few GCSEs to my name at 18. My own lack of aptitude made it easier to marvel at heroism achieved by my peers, the same peers I’d been sat in Maths with just 3 years prior. Although I was probably trying to distract them by typing ‘5318008’ into my calculator.
My first real ‘hero’ was the first boss who had faith in me. To this day I don’t know why or how she did it, but she saw past the drinking, smoking and swearing and truly believed there was a girl who could achieve more. With her help I eventually found that girl and my 3 years of wasted life remained in the past. She supported me through some vocational training and made sure I got several NVQs for my graft. She promoted me multiple times and by the time I was 20, thanks to her, I was one of the people in charge. The staff who knew the old me weren’t happy, weren’t able to compute the change and struggled to believe how hard I was working to earn those stripes. In spite of knowing me and my mistakes, she never gave up and I was proud to eventually be part of her trusted team of assistants.
When I heard she’d passed away many years later I was genuinely gutted. She changed my life and without her care and direction I’d still be smoking and drinking my way through the days.
For me, she was a real hero.
Then there’s the heroes I know others have personally found. My teenage best friend found her primary hero in Hollywood. She was obsessed beyond belief with Tom Cruise (it was the 90s, and I agree he was striking) and would watch Top Gun and Cocktail on repeat if she had the chance. However, TC wasn’t there to support her through the trials and tribulations of adolescence the way her older sister was. They were siblings and friends, something I know isn’t always a given, and their love and care bubbled deep. I know that for her, looking back, her only real teenage hero was in the next bedroom NOT in a movie.
My daughter, only 5 years old, has similar heroes to my cartoony friends back in the 80s. Hers are in Paw Patrol, some idiot (a millionaire idiot) on YouTube called ‘Blippy’, and Britney Spears (I introduced her to some of the original songs and she now forces Alexa to play them on repeat) – she calls her ‘Britbee Smears’ and it makes me laugh!
But she already has a real hero, maybe a few, all of whom she’ll love and admire until the end of time. Her Nana and Grandads will be the first – a group of beloved family members on her daddy’s side from a generation that know instinctively how to turn any frown upside down. They take her to the zoo, show her how to bake cakes, talk to her about construction machinery (she calls them ‘diggers’ and ‘exemators’) and shower her with love and kisses even when she doesn’t want them. She’ll know for the rest of her life that these are people she can always rely on and it’s a ‘hero/hero worship’ relationship that I truly envy.
I hope one day I might make her hero list too, but as her mother I accept it’s unlikely.
I’m not ‘cool’ at all.
Around 10 years ago my personal ‘hero’ ideas changed again as I found myself face to face with the support of medical professionals and friends needed for my mum as she battled cancer. As the journey unravelled we met specialists, nurses, volunteers, colleagues and mates, all of whom went above and beyond to make her life more comfortable. She had reiki massages offered by kind neighbours, cds of relaxing music created for her by macmillan nurses, deliveries of papers and magazines from the local shop (she couldn’t do the walk after the treatment started) and even doctors who wanted to chat with her about Inspector Morse and Darling Buds of May (escapist tv that she loved to get lost in). Her stressful job became a thing of the past (although we’d hoped she’d one day return). I expected her colleagues to send emails and make calls without considering her need to get better, but these ‘heroes’ were incredible – I totally misjudged them. Flowers arrived, then small groups visited and talked about everything and anything, but NEVER work. They’d arrange picnics, help with her wheelchair at the village fete and even keep me company while she slept to recharge. They’d help me personally with messages of love and support – something I needed at a time when I felt pretty alone and didn’t know who to turn to. It was mum who needed help, not me. I felt selfish for even thinking that way, but her colleagues seemed to understand and without me asking, they’d offer a chat. It meant a lot to me, just as their support before, during and after the funeral, the finite details of which I won’t go into, but they thoroughly supported me again…more than my husband at the time and he was technically the only ‘family’ I had left.
I think at this point I wanted those heroes to be my family instead. Unconsciously the search for new heroes to be part of my life full-time began.
Today I admire many of the usual suspects…all people who I believe are truly deserving of any kudos for whatever reason. They don’t have to be offering sombre support and they don’t have to be cartoon ideas of heroes saving cats from drifting to sea in a dinghy (refer to Paw Patrol if you need to know that ending).
Ambassadors, volunteers, councillors, believers, encouragers, fighters, survivors, brave people, balanced brains, marginalised groups, impartial political explainers, campaigners…people making a difference to real lives…that’s where heroism sits, surely? Any positive difference, big or small, can allow someone to put you on that pedestal.
But it’s the little heroes that have only recently become visible to me. Why? I was part of the busy hustle and bustle of life until a few years ago. My opinions and respect were focussed on people the media threw at me without any real understanding or research on my part. In some cases (politics would be a good example here) I don’t understand many of the ‘admired’ custodians involved. This is an area my knowledge could be improved, but knowing who to trust is a minefield.
Some celebrities are doing great things with their fame, using their time and resources to be part of positive change in all sorts of ways. But I’m really putting a lot of weight on the word ‘some’ here. It’s a fraction that are actually involved in anything positive at all, with ‘celebrity’ having become a career in itself, rather than just a status symbol. They don’t need to do anything noteworthy or proactive to get noticed – they’re already popular for breaking up with their partner / having a meltdown in a nightclub / singing on reality tv. It takes nothing at all to gain following and status.
So when your life becomes insular you find yourself depending on every conversation you have because there are so few of them. That can include the imaginary conversations you have with newsreaders at 7am, arguing over the latest policy change at no. 10 with a boring man who can’t even hear you. It also includes the conversations with customer service advisers at the bank and even the friendly chat you have with the postman (less than a dozen words that he instantly forgets, but I spend the rest of the day feeling very grateful for).
So these days I find heroes in those strange conversations that make a difference. It’s a huge badge for the man delivering my mail, but him remembering my name and asking how I’m doing once or twice a week has a rippled positive impact on my day. His kindness makes me feel remembered, valued and interesting, and if he’s offering me that kind of social support then I know he’s doing it for pensioners living alone, stressed out parents juggling the worry of rising bills and multiple screaming children, and the lady who runs the local charity shop on her own, making no money herself and ploughing her time and effort into something she believes in. He’s a hero because he makes a big difference just by being him, and that’s an awesome power to have, even if he doesn’t know it.
It’s a great thing to celebrate someone being noteworthy for positive reasons, but like I said before, many everyday heroes have no idea someone has given them the badge.
Some celebrities and media folk seem to believe it’s a badge you give yourself rather than earn.
So I make sure to talk to the postman, keep in touch with some of mums old mates, and thank the ladies who volunteer at the local counselling service. Their efforts day in day out might seem like the norm, a process they have to go through, but they’d probably feel grateful, surprised, maybe even happy to hear that they’ve had a positive impact on your life.
So I talk to my postman for a couple of minutes to show him my gratitude, and give him some kind words back.
If no one says it, no one knows.
I’ve decided that I wanted a woman superhero of my own making for this post, and here she is.
If only my own creativity could be made with a superpower! Editing would be so much less stress!