Monday, January 20, 2014

Heroes' Holiday

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. day! This past November, we went down to DC to spend Thanksgiving with my brother and sister and their families. Ross and I went on different excursions with different nephews, and one of the most memorable was viewing the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial by night. We walked down the National Mall from the Smithsonian Castle to the Tidal Basin (a  looong walk in cold weather!) to be rewarded with a stunning sight. I hadn't seen any pictures of the memorial, so the full effect - walking through the narrow, cliff-like entrance to see the figure of Dr. King emerging out of the rock. "From the mountains of despair, a stone of hope," the legend reads.
photo by Scott Ableman
Photo by Scott Ablemen
Two of the next generation.

One of the best things about our visit was sharing it with my nine-year-old nephew Xavier. We talked about Dr. King, and what he did, and Xavi and I waked around the encircling stone wings of the memorial and he read aloud some of the quotes inscribed there. We talked about the difference between superheros (which Xavi is VERY much into) and real heroes.

I hope my nephews continue to think of Martin Luther King, Jr. as a hero, someone to learn about and to emulate. It seems to take more work to remember real heroes in our day, with the internet and a hundred and sixty cable channels ready to distract us. When Xavi is my age, Dr. King will be as far removed in history from him as William Jennings Bryant, John Singer Sargent and Queen Alexandria are from me.

How about you, Reds? Who do you hope will remain a hero to the next generation? Who were your first heros when you were small? And have you passed on any torches to your children, nieces, or nephews?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: This is such an important question, Julia. I think about --bravery. Oe of the things I see in my grandchildren--they are fabulous, and brilliant, of course--is a wish to be wonderful. How do we do that? Be brave. I know this is what I'm sometimes lacking--but courage and bravery, and confidence--that's what I want instill.  
I have always thought I would name a child Amelia, after Amelia Earhart. Or Christa,  after Christa McAuliffe. They had a passion, they took a risk, they were not afraid. 

My lawyer husband spent many years in the 60's in Mississippi, working to make sure the new Voting Rights Act was followed.. it was terrifying and important. He was brave. IS brave. 

HALLIE EPHRON: A few years ago climate researcher Stephen Schneider, died. In 1971(!) he wrote a paper that predicted global warming. Over the years he refined his theory backed by evidence. He was villified by climate change deniers who still claim there is no statistical evidence that the earth is warming or that human behavior is the cause. I hope and pray Dr. Schneider is remembered as a hero whose warning people heeded... in time.

Here's a video of him in action not long before his death:

LUCY BURDETTE: Of course I could go with writers--those who wrote novels like CADDIE WOODLAWN and the Little House on the Prairie series. Books that gave hope and light to the shy young people who read them...

Photo: Palm Beach Daily News
But the old footage of Martin Luther King jr. in action is so inspiring. I love that he had a cause he was so sure was the right path. And that he was willing to risk everything, including his life, to move it forward. Same thing with the early heroes of the women's movement. And closer to home, there are some folks right here in Key West who are trying to help the homeless's not always a popular cause, but neither can it be ignored.

RHYS BOWEN: When I was growing up Winston Churchill was the hero--the one
who essentially saved the world from Hitler. A friend and I stood all night in a long line to file past his coffin as he lay in state. Our current world suffers from a lack of heroes, don't you think. How many current politicians can we name who come across as shining leaders? Mandela was one. To be have been unjustly imprisoned all those years and to emerge not wanting revenge shows a truly noble spirit.

I am disgusted that today's icons give such a terrible example to the young: movie stars who live together and have several children before they decide to get married. Pop stars who twerk. God, I'm sounding like the sort of old woman I used to swear I'd never turn into!

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  My parents were such staunch conservatives that while they were shocked by the murders of the Kennedys and Reverend King, I wouldn't say they either mourned or admired them.  For me, growing up in that era, I felt somehow cheated that we as a family hadn't grieved together...
Personal heroes? The Gemini and Apollo astronauts! The Right Stuff, all right.  The Space Shuttle astronauts, especially Sally Ride. 

One of my lifetime heroes? Charles Darwin.  And I was crazy about Carl Sagan.  (You can see the biology major seeping through here...)

Heroes for today's generation?  Mandela, undoubtedly. And although I'm not Catholic, my admiration for Pope Francis grows by the day.

As for the movie stars, Rhys, I don't think Brad and Angie have set a bad example, married or not. I would just hate to live with that kind of public scrutiny.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: My present-day hero is Malala Yousafzai, the girls' education activist. As we all know, she was shot by the Taliban, who were trying to execute her for speaking out on blogs and to the BBC. She survived and continues to speak out on behalf of voiceless girls and women, garnering a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize along the way. 

P.S. Martin Luther King, Jr. day is important in our home, of course. However, one humorous postscript is that when Harlem was burning, Miss Edna looked out to see the local dry cleaners on fire. And now, very year on Martin Luther King's day—after singing the praises of the great man, of course— she shakes her head. "And I had the most beautiful dress in that shop," she says, remembering. 

JULIA: How about you, dear readers? Who are your heroes? And who do you think ought to be remembered in the next generation?


  1. Recognizing and remembering is such an important thing . . . those who work to make the world a better place for all people, those who put themselves in harm’s way every day to ensure the safety and/or freedom of others . . . they are all heroes to be remembered.

  2. I'd like to put in a word for Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, captain of U.S. Airways Flight 1549, January 15, 2009. Despite emergency-landing in the Hudson River, all 155 passengers and crew aboard survived.

    Since the incident, Sullenberger hasn't sought to cash in on his fame and maintains that he and his crew simply followed emergency procedure whereas emergencies often cause people to panic and go against procedure.

    In commemorating Flight 1549's fifth anniversary, Sullenberger said he couldn't celebrate the occasion if even one life had been lost.

  3. After the economic bust in 1929-1932, a newly created Federal Reserve thought it best to tighten credit conditions--helping to bring about the deepest depression this country has known, a jobless rate so bad (estimated at over 25% by 1936) the beginnings of revolution started in Seattle and other cities. Having studied the Fed's response then, Ben Bernanke did the opposite in 2009 and unemployment never rose above 9%. He is criticized today by so many -- even a minority of economists. But he saved the country another deep depression.

  4. Good point, Jack, and I so agree on Bernanke. The economy was going to hell in a handbasket double quick.

    Even though many of our heroes turn out to be deeply flawed--JFK, MLK (also a womanizer; a black friend who was a very beautiful teenager when MLK came to town was locked in by her mother--who was instrumental in helping organize local events--to keep him away from her)--their accomplishments changed the world, or the way we view it.

    Thor Heyerdahl, Stephen Jay Gould, Michael Pollan, Hillary Clinton, Madeliene Albright, Indira Ghandi--they all changed our perception in some small or large way.

  5. Dr. Paul Farmer, the founder of Partners in Health, and the subject of Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains. His work in Haiti and with AIDS earned him accolades, which he well deserves.

    My book group read the book and then took a field trip to hear him speak at Villanova. He was charming, self-deprecating, and had a packed auditorium of young people ready to go out and make the world a healthier place. To do the good deeds yourself, and to inspire others to follow your example, that's heroic in my eeyes.

  6. Oh, good ones, all! And inspirational to think about..

  7. A thought provoking, touching piece this morning, Reds. Thank you.

    We seem to have so many people in the spotlight these days who are so far removed from what we look for in our heroes. It breaks my heart and it makes me angry.

    Our heroes speak out and act in the face of great odds and enormous wrongs. We can all support them by refusing to stay silent in the face of all those wrongs.

    My heroes include Pope Francis and Hillary Clinton and on a more local level, Rev. William Barber.

  8. Great post, Julia! I don't think about heroes that much, sad to say. Growing up, the true heroes like MLK felt out of reach somehow. My heroes tended to be, say, James Herriot. Remember his books about being a country vet in England?

    Or the women I read about (can't remember all the details) who dove into a pool, broke her back -- quadriplegic -- but still became a painter. She held the paintbrush in her mouth.

    Pope Francis and Malala Yousafzai reignite my hope that modern day heroes can still exist. Sorry, but Angelina Jolie's double masectomy doesn't suffice -- oh she's SOOO brave and courageous; she's a hero to all us women -- give me break. That's not heroism, that self-preservation plus the money to back it up.

    OK, about to pull out the soapbox ... Nuf said. :-)

  9. The flawed hero is an interesting thing to think about. Is it more true of men than of women? And why does it bother us more that some heroes are flawed than others? Kennedy's womanizing doesn't bother me that much--he was a political leader, not a moral example, and I don't think those two things are necessarily synonymous. But that Dr. King, a pastor and a man who set himself up as a moral compass, took advantage of young black girls who admired him really gives me the creeps...

  10. I didn't know that about MLK, Deb. That fact needs some processing, for sure. Hmm ...

  11. I have four grandchildren, and I teach 3rd and 4th graders in Sunday School. I have spoken with them about saints (in the Episcopal tradition, the word is used pretty liberally) and heroes, and people they admire. Personally, I think the more an individual is put "above" the rest of us, the more there is a likelihood of that person succumbing to temptations.
    I like to hope that our leaders have pure hearts and are honestly trying to achieve peace and justice. But, it can be baffling to watch what they actually do and say!
    Great researchers, hard workers, volunteers, serious people who focus on the good of others -- they are my heroes.
    I am one who believes that President Obama is a great man.
    I don't bother thinking too much about the celebrities of sports and Hollywood.

  12. On one hand, I hesitate to call anyone a hero because the term is so loaded. On the other hand, a selfless act -- even just one in a complicated lifetime -- can't be dismissed.

    Everyone has admirable qualities and flaws. Anyone who inspires others to selfless acts is, in a sense, a hero.

  13. Gerald and Denise, yes, I was just thinking about all the unsung heroes--and there are so many. People who risk their lives every day, people who do good in their communities. And organizations, like Doctors Without Borders, which I've supported for years, who help people in need.

    Maybe we need to designate and Unsung Hero Day.

  14. Singling out one person as for the heroic pedestal is an interesting exercise is reflecting on just who we really admire and consider heroic. Unfortunately, I tend to agree with Rhys that there don't seem to be as many looming heroic figures that seemed to change the world as there used to be. I think that there is a dearth of selflessness these days that is required in that kind of heroic status. Of course, having said that, I immediately chastise myself, and think of the many people who step up to the plate and perform heroic acts that save lives and change lives, while, perhaps, not changing the world itself. Teachers, firefighters, policemen and policewomen, mothers, fathers, soldiers, and, yes, writers effect positive change, too.

    And, Deb asked the question about the flawed hero, whether it was more a trait in men than women. I've long thought that a woman has had to adhere to a higher standard of conduct than a man in being labeled a hero. I did know that MLK had a roving eye, but my take on that is the positive change he brought to the world and his dedication to civil rights outweighed that flaw. But, then, his flaw must have caused great pain to his wife. She must be considered heroic, too, in putting the greater cause before her own rights. I'm not sure a woman could have gotten away with being sexually active outside her marriage and still have been considered admirable. JFK certainly kept his place on the pedestal, too, in spite of his philandering.

    Choosing one person for heroic status might be too hard of a task. There are so many different people in so many different walks of life that have effected a change or difference. Some that came immediately to mind when I started reading the post are Nelson Mandela, Sally Ride, and Mother Teresa. And, I'm rather liking this new pope, Pope Francis as a candidate for heroism. Also, I would be remiss in my gratitude if I didn't mention my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Mains, who told me that my large feet were a source of a firm foundation, not an embarrassment.

  15. Oh, how could I have left out doctors and nurses as everyday heroes, too. Now, I will be thinking up all sorts of everyday hero professions and people--social workers, mental health workers, pro-bono lawyers ...

  16. I like your take on this, Gerald. We are all human, and most of us have our feet of clay. The idea of a single, heroic act giving salvation is a good one.

    And maybe forgiving each other for flaws is also heroic. :-)

  17. My heroes are more common people. People in my life I can look to for common sense inspiration. People who keep on—despite…

    My biggest hero will always have to be our daughter who lived with kidney disease caused by a birth defect. She did everything her friends did. She played. She went to school. She was on pep squad. She loved to dance. She loved nature and the outdoors. She went camping and backpacked the Sierra with us. She went to college. She married. She had children.

    She studied her condition. She did all she had to do. When something didn't work she said— okay what's next. Then she went ahead and did it. She was a dreamer and a doer.

    She used every bit of her dialysis time to write and to read. She read and criticized my book for me as I was writing it. She was both passionate objective. I couldn't finish it fast enough for her to see it done before she died. We laughed together at the craziness of it all—my tears wanting her to live and her tears wanting me to finish the damn book. She should be everybody's hero.

  18. Oh, Reine, your daughter was a hero indeed. I'm in awe of her bravery and determination. Her life and your love for her are inspiring.

  19. Reine, what Kathy said. And you are pretty inspiring yourself. xx

  20. Reine, my supposition is that most people who are inspiring don't try to be:-)

  21. There have been many people in the "limelight" that did wonderful things to be remembered by

    Heroes to me not, in any specific order:

    Fire Fighters
    Homeless Shelters

    Shelters/safe houses for those in abusive situations to get them out of those situations and help them move on to a better, safer life


    support staff that work with all those listed above and make it easier for them to do their jobs

    Animal rescue groups and those that foster animals until a loving home can be found for them

    I tend to lean more toward Everyday people as being heroes than those in public eye, not to say some in public eye are not heroes, but the everyday heroes tend to not be recognized at all or certainly not as much as those in the public eye

  22. I am reminded of a passage in the final Harry Potter book, when Dumbledore tells Harry that those who seek power are the least likely to use it wisely, and that true greatness comes from someone who doesn't seek it, but steps up to the cause when necessary. And, Gerald, you are right on the money. And, Reine. How much courage does it take to step up to the plate when a time of crises arrives? Someone stepped up one day and walked into a burning house on a cold, early January morning. He rescued the two elderly inhabitants and put them in his warm truck until help could arrive. Then he drove away and no one ever knew his name. That man is a hero. Thanks to him, my parents lived. Extraordinary acts of personal heroism. These people walk side by side with us, live in our homes, and might, someday, be one of us.