Today's news included an article which contained a list (because we all know that PEOPLE LIKE LISTS) of CNN's Top 10 Heroes of 2008. Here's the link:


Before I even read a word, I knew what the list would look like. Ten individuals who have gone to great lengths in service to others. All of them have impacted many others through their selfless actions, and who all no doubt inspire other people to do the same. It is all good and noble and without question what more people should aspire to.

Then why, I wonder, am I left with a sort of hollow feeling after reading the article? Why?

Maybe it is that this is a media-driven list, made to attract attention, which attracts money, which fuels the corporation that published the article. Maybe it is that I find little value in Kristi Yamaguchi's opinion about what makes someone a hero. Maybe it is that all ten of the honorees are now put up on pedestals, yet we really do not know them. There are no saints, and maybe there are no heroes.

For the longest time, this is what I thought, that last statement. The idea of having a hero seemed simple-minded and slavish. No one could be that good, to idealize that much, to trust. Heroes, by nature, must be a kind of perfection. There is nothing I have seen in my life that has not conformed to this: there is no high without a corresponding low. Nature is all about homeostasis, the process of returning to normal, average, expected, stability. Nothing is free, there is always a cost. We just sometimes cannot see what that is. I expect the ten heroes know exactly what I am talking about.

I will be the first person to say that I think that service to others is a necessary component to what it means to lead a full and meaningful life. We really are all interconnected, and what you to do help (or hurt) has impact that reaches past your life, past the lives you touch into some kind of infinity. There is no individual who does not have something to offer of value to others, whether or not he or she thinks so. Sometimes people are afraid to take the step out to help. Sometimes it all seems so useless. It kind of is, but kind of not, and you just don't have any control over where your actions will land sometimes. But the effort, even just that, is important.It just is.

I very much admire each of CNN's winners. Perhaps that is the better word to use. Top 10 Admirees doesn't read as well, though.

What I find heroic, now, is less the grand and more the individual, the internal. I don't even know my heroes, but I know they are out there. There are people who fight back fear, apathy, dishonesty, weakness, cruelty, hopelessness, the things in life that are ruinous on every level. Heroes, to me, are brave and strong when there is no one around to see, or help, or know, or nominate to a list. They fight for their truth, from the core, and for more than one day, for a lifetime. One shot, one chance.

Be your own hero.