As I walk along the road that meanders beside the waterfront of my hometown, I take in the sights and sounds of an early spring day in the Pacific Northwest: the gradient gray sky, the salty Salish Sea mist, the snow-capped Olympic mountains, the sporadic groupings of daffodils brightly declaring spring. I’ve walked this stretch hundreds of times, but today I am caught by a simple white cross on the side of the road marking the place where an eternal soul left behind a physical body. Hand-written in permanent marker is a name, birth and death date, and the following inscription: “Loved, not forgot. Hero, good man, son, nephew, cousin, grandson, son, fiancé.” I am stuck by the word “hero.” Having not known this man or his story, I begin to wonder what makes someone a hero?
Immediately images of superheroes come into my mind’s eye—Captain America, Black Panther, Iron Man to name a few. Over the last two years, my family watched nearly all of the 20+ Marvel movies to escape the reality of extended isolation. The stories of overcoming powerful enemies and saving the earth from certain destruction inspired us and brought us comfort in the midst of a scary, unprecedented, and uncertain time.
These altruistic heroes with their incredible powers brought us delight as we were pulled into stories of good triumphing over evil. However, the superheroes played by chiseled actors in skin-tight body suits with special effects, timed sequences, and smoke and mirrors were in many ways unrelatable. Sure, they had problems, but the obstacles they faced were nothing compared to their special abilities, power, and technology. How could they lose?
As I continue my walk, I ponder what makes a hero in real life? What noble qualities elicit our praise and adoration? What if heroes aren’t ridiculously good-looking people with superhuman powers who save the world from global annihilation?
What if heroes aren’t those who are above humanity trying to save it but are the ones who are showing up in their humanity?
Maybe real-life heroes are parents who show up for their kids in ways that remind them they are worthy and loved. Maybe heroes are teachers who day in and day out, even amidst their own exhaustion, educate and inspire students. Maybe it’s people who welcome refugees, caring for their physical needs as well as restoring their inherent value and dignity. Or maybe it’s artists who create beauty out of pain to connect us to one another. Maybe heroes are the everyday folks like health care workers, flight attendants, sanitation workers, city council members, therapists, food-bank volunteers, and grandparents…people who, in their humanity, remind us that we don’t have to do life alone.
Perhaps our tendency towards superhero worship is just a temporary escape from the reality that we can be everyday heroes ourselves. Sometimes just showing up and bringing all of who are in our relationships is an act of courage that deserves hero-level adoration.
Maggie Hemphill is a trauma-informed life coach and story group facilitator at Storied Life Coaching, where she meets people in the depths of their stories and guides them to living a more integrated life of meaning and purpose. She is the co-host of the Arise Podcast having conversations around faith, race, justice, gender and healing that seek to tell a truer narrative of our collective stories. Maggie supports and empowers other women as brand affiliate with Trades of Hope, supporting women out of poverty and human trafficking through education and employment making fair trade jewelry and ethical fashion. Maggie lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and three hilarious kids and is in constant awe of God’s glory and goodness.