Who is your hero? How do you define hero? Has this time living through a pandemic given you a new definition of hero?
My definition of a hero is an ordinary person who performs an extraordinary act in the face of danger to him/her/themselves. Last year as a highly contagious and deadly virus that had no cure or prevention spread through our communities, the heroes among us went about making sure that the rest of us had food, shelter, and the necessities of life. It was not just doctors, nurses, hospital and nursing home workers who went to work every day putting others and the community before their own safety. The grocery store clerks, the garbage collectors, the truck drivers, the postal workers, all who make our lives run as smooth as possible became heroes. They showed up and worked, doing whatever was necessary for the community, often risking their own lives and health.
Last year, the Rotary Club of Burnsville began a fundraising program called “Flags for Heroes.” I was skeptical. I’m not a flag-waving person. We have never flown an American flag at our house, even though my husband spent 20 years in the Army. As he is fond of saying, he doesn’t feel the need to fly a flag to show his patriotism – his actions speak louder than any symbolic gesture.
He is one of my heroes. He also spearheaded the Rotary’s Flags for Heroes fundraiser last year. To our surprise, people in the community loved the idea. More than 200 flags surrounded the Burnsville Town Square. It was a sight that brought smiles to everyone – including this cynical non-flag waver. The club donated more than $11,000 to community nonprofits.
“It was magical,” said Claudia, a small business owner in Burnsville. Claudia is another of my heroes. When businesses were shut down in 2020, Claudia went to work, determined to keep her business thriving. She was also determined to help other businesses in our little town operating and thriving – through online sales, Facebook live events. She became a one-woman chamber of commerce with the skill, the knowledge, and the pure love of this town to keep as many local businesses not just surviving, but thriving during a difficult time.
Other heroes have emerged during this pandemic – the physicians who continue to see patients even putting their lives and their families at risk; the teachers, always my heroes as the ones who show up at school every day aware of the threat of gun violence; the restaurant workers and owners who have found creative ways to serve the public food in a safe atmosphere.
Although many of the flags on town square were in honor of those who served in the military, the Rotary club made it clear that the person who sponsors a flag is the one who gets to define who is a hero. My husband sponsored a flag honoring a clerk at the grocery store where we shop.
This year, the Rotary Club of Burnsville is once again seeking sponsors for American flags to be flown around the town square in honor/memory of heroes. As you consider who your heroes are, I leave you with a poem by William Stafford.
It is time for all the heroes to go home
if they have any, time for all of us common ones
to locate ourselves by the real things
we live by.
Far to the north, or indeed in any direction,
strange mountains and creatures always lurked—
elves, goblins, trolls, and spiders:—we
encounter them in dread and wonder,
But once we have tasted far streams, touched the gold,
found some limit beyond the waterfall,
a season changes, and we come back, changed
but safe, quiet, grateful.
Suppose an insane wind hold all the hills
while strange beliefs whine at the traveler’s ears,
we ordinary beings can cling to the earth and love
where we are, sturdy for common things.
The Way It Is, New and Selected Poems
(Graywolf Press, 1977)