I had planned to spend the day writing yesterday, but I couldn’t think of anything to write about. Hoping some exercise might clear my brain and allow a spark for a story to surface, I decided to go to the gym. While stowing my things in a locker, I heard an old rock anthem coming from the overhead speakers. I found myself humming along with Bonnie Tyler as she sang “Holding Out for a Hero.” A few minutes later, as I walked into the workout area, I was surprised to hear a different song playing that also mentioned a hero. I stepped onto a treadmill, put in my earbuds, turned on Pandora’s Dance Cardio Radio and—unbelievably—a third song featuring the word “hero” was playing. I don’t always catch on quickly, but as I walked on the treadmill, it occurred to me that maybe this would be a good time to write a story about heroes.
When I think of a hero, I think of someone who does something courageous that results in saving someone else’s life. (This is not a dictionary definition—it’s just my definition.)
I’ve never saved anyone’s life. And, as far as I know, no one has ever saved mine. The opportunity to save a life isn’t something everyone gets to experience. But everyone does get to experience the opportunity to save someone’s day.
In my last blog post, I told of a stranger who happened along at a moment when I was very upset and I needed something to help me refocus. All this stranger did was talk to me—and not even in English! But by the time our conversation was finished, I felt better. I doubt that he’d think what he did was in any way heroic, but he saved the day for me. And I think that counts as a kind of heroism: “heroism light,” perhaps?
While washing dishes this morning, I looked out my back window and saw water gushing from the back of a nearby building. I almost didn’t notice because it was raining hard and very windy. The building houses a coffee shop on the ground floor and an apartment above, but it is currently unoccupied. The two water pipes (presumably one for hot and one for cold) for the second floor were installed on the outside of the building—with no insulation. After a few days of very cold temperatures, well below freezing, this morning it warmed up into the fifties. Apparently those water lines froze and burst during the cold snap, and when the weather warmed up, the water (lots of water!) began to flow.
Sure, it was a bad idea to run water feeds on the outside of the building, but as a person who’s been known to do a stupid thing now and then, I felt sorry for the property owner. As I watched the water pour out of those pipes, I saw dollar signs; that water bill was going to be huge! I didn’t immediately think I could do anything to remedy the situation. But it quickly occurred to me that my kitchen window provided the only vantage point from which to see the broken pipes, and if this “leak” was going to be stopped it would be up to me.
I called the water department to report the problem, but I was told that without an exact address they couldn’t send anyone out. I explained in detail where the building was and what it looked like; the clerk seemed to think that would be enough to dispatch help. A few hours passed and the water still hadn’t been turned off. So I put on a raincoat and boots, grabbed an umbrella and walked around the corner to find the street number, then came back home and called again. Two hours later, a water department crew was at my door; I explained what I’d seen and within a few minutes the water had been shut off.
The actions I took to get the water turned off took me a total of 20 or 30 minutes and didn’t keep me from doing anything else. (I dawdle when I’m trying to write; I’d have wasted that much time on something else anyway—at least this was something useful!)
I don’t expect any applause for what I did. The property owner will probably never know how the water company learned of his broken pipes. But, nevertheless, when I saw that the water had stopped, I felt great! I felt like a hero!
As I said before, no one has ever saved my life. But I can easily rattle off a long list of everyday heroes who have stepped in to save a day for me: by giving a smile or a kind word, by letting me pay for my two items before they unloaded their cartful, by helping me get into a car I’d locked myself out of—with a tiny child inside! (I was serious when I said I’ve done some stupid things!) And my list could go on and on.
I think it's time for me to rewrite my definition of the word “hero.”
Yes, a full-fledged, high-test, capital “H” Hero, to me, is still someone who risks his/her own safety to save the life of another. But an everyday hero, a “hero light,” a hero with a small “h” is someone who—with no thought of being recognized, thanked or compensated—does something to make someone else’s life a little happier, a little easier, a little more bearable.
And that's not really a little thing at all.