Unsung heroes

Amidst a daily diet of worrying news, it is always encouraging to hear good news, especially when it inspires you to fight the good fight and not give up. The following, received yesterday, aspects I have already reflected on, is an example:Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai and Indian child rights campaigner Kailash Satyarthi have received the Nobel Peace Prize awards. The Nobel committee described both laureates as “champions of peace”. Ms Yousafzai said she was there to stand up for the rights of forgotten and frightened children, and raise their voice rather than pity them. Mr Satyarthi said receiving the prize was “a great opportunity” to further his work against child slavery.”

This was not the only news of heroism I picked up yesterday. It happened that, while waiting to be served in a shop, I got to flick through the Sun newspaper and noticed a whole page devoted to 30-40 members of the British military who had been performing a wide variety of outstanding acts of bravery and duties beyond what might have been reasonably expected, because it met a critical need at the time. Later, I came across a moving report that started and ended thus: “They risked and persisted, sacrificed and saved. Editor Nancy Gibbs explains why the Ebola Fighters are TIME’s choice for Person of the Year 2014. Not the glittering weapon fights the fight, says the proverb, but rather the hero’s heart… For tireless acts of courage and mercy, for buying the world time to boost its defenses, for risking, for persisting, for sacrificing and saving, the Ebola fighters are TIME’s 2014 Person of the Year.”

To complete the circle as it were, I scanned our local newspaper expecting, as would normally be the case, for a report of some local act of heroism to jump out of the pages. One unlikely report did strike me and, let’s face it, all of us will have our favourites. It concerned a woman that had endured years of domestic violence. I relay this without prejudice because I do not know all the circumstances or the perspective of the perpetrator, but the way this lady has handled an extremely difficult situation seemed to me heroic. It also illustrates that heroes can be the most unlikely people doing things we wouldn’t normally link to heroic actions. Heroes are not just brave when the odds are stacked against them and the danger levels are high but they just do what they believe needs to be done and more, usually without thought of personal gain or special attention for their own comfort or safety. In essence it is all about being human and what we see in the heroes is the best in humanity.

Following news from various media sources as one does, one can hardly escape learning about heroes and heroism. I couldn’t help but be impressed when I was listening to a report of someone I never knew existed, the disabled Australian comedian and disability campaigner Stella Young, who recently died (aged 32). Even though she resisted being put on some pedestal as being someone special, what she achieved was remarkable and dare I say it heroic. One of my particular favourites is Canon Andrew White, Vicar of Baghdad, who also lives with a disability, yet faithfully and with great dedication serves his flock while under extreme pressure. His blog makes fascinating reading; what he achieves is crucially important.

My title is “unsung heroes” but all my examples are of sung heroes because I am singing their praise and so is the mainstream media. There are many others who are heroes and their efforts may go unrecognised except perhaps to a few and of course to the Almighty. As a keen student of church history, my particular favourites when it comes to heroes are those in the long list of missionary pioneers who almost everyone are unaware of. The Nobel prize committee that awarded Malala and Kailash certainly got it right but let us not forget Malala’s family and others who withstood the Taliban at great cost and the associates of Kailash who were murdered as they fought powerful forces intent on perpetuating child slavery in India. Who remembers these, and does it matter? Yes, for heroes they are!

And there are many other heroes too – teachers who sacrifice and put up with so much and the same goes for nurses and many other professions – not all of course, but I have seen so much dedication and it is not always the dedicated that get rewarded either. Throughout history there have been those who have served others, often less fortunate than they and without the means to repay, often at great personal sacrifice and little reward in return, and these are heroes also. It seems to me that being a good father/mother, husband/wife, neighbour, colleague etc., when it is easier not to be, can also be heroic. And you and I, we can be heroes too. In my own tiny corner helping the homeless in Southend, I have come across many who do just that, without ostentation and often at a personal cost. They are every bit heroes. And because heroes exist, I feel better about carrying on as a community activist. Creating a land fit for heroes was once seen as a fitting tribute to those who fought and often laid down their lives defending their country in war. Surely, our tribute to the heroes that have gone before us and are still with us, is to work toward making a world that really is fit for heroes.

Postscript: Nine months on, a Facebook friend mentioned a remarkable lady, Corrie Ten Boon, a concentration camp survivor who forgave her captors despite her family perishing in the camp – yet another hero and the list continues to grow. It is true we cannot honour heroes if we don’t know about what they do. I suspect there are some who prefer it that way. Sadly, in our society of warped values we reward the sort of people my mother used to refer to as rubbish, who if anything are anti-heroes. There will come a day when the true heroes will be acknowledged – I have no doubt.

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