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What Is A Hero?

August 30, 2018

One of the things that has occurred in the aftermath of 9/11 is the use of the label/title of “hero”.  I can’t specifically name how or why this happened, but suddenly, it felt like anybody who did something unexpected, out of the norm, or risky was awarded that title.  Some of these individuals were children, others adults.  Some leveraged their notoriety into television careers, while others received movie roles.  It’s important to honor those who risk their well-being on behalf of others, especially when so much bad news occupies our attention.  It gives me hope!  But are these identifiable, one time acts of selflessness, the only expression of heroism?

I was thinking about this as I listened to the many inspiring remarks, offered by those who knew and worked alongside, Senator John McCain, in response to his death.  All of which were a bit different, yet woven together, by the common thread of his character.  He was one for whom honesty, integrity, and dedication were more than just words, they were a compass for living.  It is these characteristics, embedded at the core of his soul, that provided the courage required for him to survive not just his time of imprisonment in Vietnam, but his years of service as a statesman representing our country.  And it is his expression of these attributes which defines him, at least for me, as a hero.  He exemplified what it means to live sacrificially for higher ideals and the  betterment of others. Sacrificial living can be shown in many ways through a variety of situations.  In an age where the greatest idolatry is the worship of self (individualism), this is a characteristic of heroism we all need to think about and remember.

In a time of national division, as a way of offering one last illustration of these ideals, Senator McCain invited some of his fiercest political opponents to eulogize him.  In doing so, he again reminds us that the oneness we share in our basic humanity, is much greater and more important than any differences of faith, race, gender, or politics which might come between us.  McCain boldly spoke the truth as he saw it, but was never above acknowledging mistakes when he made them.  He could strongly disagree with Ted Kennedy, yet respectfully accept him as a friend and colleague at the end of the day.  As such, it is only right that his example of decent, honorable, cooperative and positive living, not only be acknowledged, but more importantly, never forgotten.

People had much to say regarding Senator McCain this week, but the remark that struck me most came from Vietnam’s foreign minister, Pham Binh Minh, when he said that McCain would be remembered as one who labored to “heal the wounds of war.”  What a wonderful tribute to McCain’s character and values, especially coming from one against whom you once fought in war.  

Which leaves me to ask, “What do the words honor and honesty mean to us today?  Are we motivated by those things that serve self, or the higher and more noble goals of building a world of peace, justice, respect, and the well-being of all?”  All of us can give lip service to these things, however it requires much more to live them.  But in living them, we plant the seeds that raise up heroes.

                 “No greater love hath anyone, than to offer their life on behalf of others”

John McCain was just such a hero.  May we live in such a way that he is not the last.

Rev. Dr. Keith A. Haemmelmann