1 a : a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability
b : an illustrious warrior
c : a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities
d : one who shows great courage
Five police officers were killed and seven others wounded in the recent ambush in Dallas. It was the deadliest single incident for U.S. law enforcement since September 11, 2001. Two civilians were also hurt, the Dallas mayor’s office said. CNN
The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children aged between 6 and 7 years old, as well as six adult staff members. Wikipedia
On January 8, 2011, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and eighteen others were shot during a constituent meeting held in a supermarket parking lot in Casas Adobes, Arizona, in the Tucson metropolitan area. Wikipedia
On July 20, 2012, a mass shooting occurred inside of a Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, during a midnight screening of the film The Dark Knight Rises. A gunman, dressed in tactical clothing, set off tear gas grenades and shot into the audience with multiple firearms. Twelve people were killed and seventy others were injured, which was the largest number of casualties in a shooting in the United States until the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting. Wikipedia
A gunman opened fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing at least 49 people and injuring dozens before being shot dead by police. BBC News
Philando Castile, 32, was shot by a police officer in suburban St. Paul, Minn., in the second fatal encounter between police and an African-American man to gain national attention… NPR
On July 5, officers responded to a convenience store about 12:35 a.m. after an anonymous caller indicated a man selling music CDs and wearing a red shirt threatened him with a gun, Baton Rouge police have said. Two officers responded and had some type of altercation with the man (Alton Sterling) in the parking lot, and one officer fatally shot the suspect. CBS News
Enough, or should I go on?
Should I go back to Columbine?
Should I bring up the Watts riots?
Should I reference the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy?
These incidents, and others I haven’t listed, strung out over more than half a century, shock us, mortify us, make us angry, call us to arms, and divide us as a nation.
One of the common threads in all of these horrific acts of violence and death?
The people who died were not heroes.
No, that was not a typo. Read it again, and before you spout vitriol and click to another page or another blog, think with me for a minute.
Those who died in these terrible events were NOT heroes.
Re-read Mr. Webster’s definition of a hero above once again.
Were those little children at Sandy Hook Elementary School legendary figures with great strength? No, they were innocent little school children, six and seven years old.
Was Alton Sterling acting as an illustrious warrior? No, he was selling CDs outside a convenience store.
Was Philando Castille showing great courage when he was stopped and questioned by police officers supposedly for a broken taillight? No, he was simply complying with a request and reaching for his wallet.
Listen to me closely now. None of these people, gay or straight, tiny or big, children or adults, were heroes.
They were simply normal kids, normal adults, normal people, normal Americans going about their normal days or nights, going to school, trying to make a living, driving down the highway, watching movies, listening to their congresswoman give a speech, or dancing with friends.
The problem? They were all caught up in an abnormal situation, a firestorm, a maelstrom not of their own making. You may call them victims if you like (I don’t like that term, but that’s another conversation for another day), collateral damage, body counts or tallies. You may call them martyrs. You may call them symbols or hold them up on pedestals and placards and posters even in death, making them the face of your own agenda.
You may even, as our president has done, order that the flag of the United States of America be lowered and flown at half staff for them, each and every time one of these events occurs and more lives are lost. Doesn’t it seem that the flag is riding lower in the sky on so many days lately? Doesn’t it seem that the country is mourning something, burying someone, or shouting at someone almost every day now? Doesn’t it seem that we are diminished, taken down a notch, made more impotent every time someone with a gun and a grudge goes on a rampage? (To be clear, I am not anti-gun, but please, read on)
An aside, from the site USFlag.org:
“The pertinent section of the Flag Code says, “by order of the President, the flag shall be flown at half-staff upon the death of principal figures of the United States Government and the Governor of a State, territory, or possesion, as a mark of respect to their memory. In the event of the death of other officials or foreign dignitaries, the flag is to be displayed at half-staff according to Presidential orders, or in accordance with recognized customs or practices not inconsistent with law.
In the event of the death a present or former official of the government of any State, territory, or possession of the United States, the Governor of that state, territory, or possession may proclaim that the National flag shall be flown at half-staff.” The code also includes other related details including the specific length of time during which the flag should be displayed at half-staff, in the event of the death of a “principal figure”(e.g., 30 days for the death of a sitting or former President, 10 days for the death of a sitting Vice-President,etc.).”
“Although the code is actually pretty clear, confusion continues to occur. For example, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno recently ordered the American Flag flown at half-staff on all U.S. Department of Justice buildings, in honor of several DEA agents who had died. While NFF understands this gesture, the Flag Code does not give Attorney General Reno the authority to issue that order. Closer to NFF’s Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania home, Mayor Tom Murphy ordered all flags flown at half-staff to honor the victims of a plane crash. Here again, a well-intentioned gesture, but one for which no authority exists. NFF points out these “good-faith misunderstandings” not to criticize or embarrass anyone, but rather to head off a growing trivialization of this memorial salute, and to preserve the dignity and significance of flying the U.S. flag at half-staff. To any readers who may think that NFF is insensitive for raising these breaches of etiquette, please be assured that our motives are pure. We grieve these human loses deeply; however, we believe proper respect for our flag must be maintained – no matter the circumstances.”
My point here?
We are, almost by default, almost to a fault, making every one of these heinous and awful incidents an opportunity to light a bonfire of sacrifice and offer up these Americans as mythological heroes, worthy of federal protocols and procedures. It not only diminishes the true trauma and grief of a loss of life a too soon and too brutally, but it demeans and cheapens our national protocols, our national ability to mourn and our national ability to bounce back from attack and move forward.
To me, the very fact that normal, everyday citizens of this great land are increasingly impacted by, influenced by, and even killed as a result of this domestic and foreign upheaval we’re caught up in is MORE important because they have NOT set out to be heroes in the fight.
Nothing stirs the patriotism in my breast more than watching the folding of an American flag at the funeral of a fallen hero or our armed services. Nothing makes me more proud than knowing that this person did not even know me, but CHOSE to put him or herself in harm’s way for ME. That his or her death was in service to MY country.
Nothing makes me more angry and sad than hearing of the death of a six year old child who did nothing more to deserve being brutally shot and killed than coloring quietly in a coloring book.
I am not a hero.
You are most likely not a hero.
These tragedies could happen to ANY of us at any time.
The ones who died in the incidents listed above, along with the ones in Charleston and other places across this great land, are Everyman.
They are Americans.
They are the US.
They are us.
I am not a hero.
But make no mistake, dear readers, we are war in this country. We are at war with foreign powers and factions that would do us harm. We are at war with poverty and ignorance right here at home. We are at war with those who do not look or act or talk like us. We are at war with those whose skin is not the same color as ours.
We are at war, inside and outside of our borders. If we do not meet it head on, if we ignore it and explain it away and cry and gnash our teeth and tear our clothes and scream in the streets after another innocent is murdered, it will surely rip us asunder.
We are 324,000,000 citizens strong. We are resilient. We’ve been through this before and we survived. We can survive again.
I started out trying to convince you that ordinary Americans caught up in extraordinary circumstances are not heroes.
Well, you know my style by now, don’t you?
“And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you.”
Hero, Mariah Carey