Sunday, January 25, 2009

Heroes of 2009

We love our heroes.

Usually not all at once, though. We prefer them one at a time.

I have been thinking a lot about the latest hero, the pilot "Sully" Sullenberger, who landed a plane full of people on the Hudson River last weekend. This is a real hero. He is a great guy who doesn't want the spotlight. He just wants to do his job the best he can, and love his wife and family, probably squeezing them a little tighter lately. Sure, he'll accept the key to New York City and take the microphone in Danville, (for 23 seconds). But we can't get enough of him. And I have a suspicion as to why.

Having a hero lets us off the hook.

I don't intend to minimize the amazing act of heroism that Mr. Sullenberger performed last weekend. He did an incredible job, and he deserves a great deal of credit (and vacation). I do not fault him for the attention he has been getting. I do fault us for giving him so much attention. There were 155 people on board that flight. 2 pilots, 5 flight crew members, and 148 passengers. It is abundantly clear why Sullenberger is a hero. What about the other 154 people? His co-pilot surely had a hand in that fantastic, by the books landing. The flight crew, as I understand it, was instrumental in getting the passengers to calm down. And guess what? The passengers calmed down! 148 airline passengers all (eventually) followed the instructions given to them by the flight crew! I've never heard of that before! Every single person on that airplane is a hero, and every single person deserves mention by name.

And that's not all.

Commuter ferries on the Hudson River turned toward the crash-landed plane. The Coast Guard, paramedics, fire and police departments all helped get people out of the water, transport the injured to hospitals, and did everything they could to get all the passengers warm and dry. But all we hear about is Chelsey Bennett Sullenberger III. Again, I do not intend any ill will toward Mr. Sullenberger. I am just a little ashamed that his name is the only one we know out of all the heroes involved in this amazing escapade of heroism involving hundreds of heroes.

In Hebrew, the word for hero is gibbur. The root G-B-R comes from the word gever, which means "guy." The word gibbur is in a "stronger" grammatical form. It is just like gever, just more so. In Hebrew, being a gibbur (hero) is just like being a regular gever (guy), only more so. All of us have the potential to be a hero written into our very nature. Heroism is lauded because we all hope that we will behave the way the heroes do when (God forbid) we are faced with a horrible situation. Every regular "guy" has the potential to be a hero, and so many guys become heroes every day. If something were to happen to me, I know my friends, family, congregants, and fellow Americans will be there for me whenever and however I need them.

So why wait?

There are so many opportunities to be a stronger version of ourselves on a daily basis. We can give a little more tzeddakah than we usually give. We can help out in a soup kitchen or at a homeless shelter. We can use a little less and plant a little more. We can give a sandwich or a cup of coffee to the guy asking for spare change. We can teach somebody. We can smile and be kind to each other. The possibilities are endless.

We don't need a hero.

We need us.

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