One of my favorite movies is a wise little gem called 'Second Hand Lions'. The character 'Hub', played by Robert Duvall, speaks to his nephew: "Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love... true love never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn't matter if it's true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in." I love those words.
I've thinking about heroes. We bestow the title on a lot of people that don't deserve the title, if you ask me. We've got our sports heroes. We've got celebrities. We call people heroes because of the uniform that they wear. We call people heroes because of their occupation. We call people heroes because of their position. I guess I don't get that, not really. In a world so desperate for heroes, it sometimes seems to me that we bestow that title way too freely and without giving our words much thought. To my mind, heroism always involves a choice (to act, or not to act, that is the question), and in that moment, a hero invariably chooses to disregard himself and to put another person first. There is a difference between a good person and a hero. A hero is a good person who steps beyond that basic goodness, and exemplifies the finest in human nature. A hero understands honor.
Let me tell you about a little 8 year old boy that we shall call Dash. This is what I know about my little friend Dash. He was born with a heart problem that required surgery, but after a wobbly start, he's doing fine He lives on a cattle station in Australia with his Dad and Mum and his younger sister Violet. He is a fourth generation son of that cattle station. It was started by his great grandfather, and his grandfather is still an active participant in the day to day activities of the station. Dash is an expert horseman, a necessity there. He is a skinny child. He is also a hard worker, and responsible. These last two traits make him a very good student. Dash is not an athlete, but he admires athletes greatly. He's also all boy; a few years back, his mother also discovered a milo tin in the back of his bedroom cupboard which contained a raw dingo his Pagi had scalped (translation: his grandfather had skinned a dingo, and Dash had stashed the raw pelt in a cocoa container at the back of his closet). But that is, I suppose, another story for another day.
But, ahem, back to this story. Dash attends school at a tiny one teacher school house in the Australian bush with less than 20 other children, counting his sister. One of the customs there is that all of the small schools collect together to have a day of friendly competition and games. This day also includes the homeschooled children who live too far out to attend any school at all. This is a much anticipated day, and the event is known as "The Goodwill Games".
Although Dash comes from strong, hardworking stock, he is beginning to notice that he is not a competitive athlete. He tries hard, and he never stops running until he has crossed the finish line, but he does not win races. His mummy feels that this is probably genetic; she is not especially athletic either. As the other children grow taller and faster and stronger, he can't help but notice that he is beginning, ever so slightly, to lag behind, despite his very best efforts. His mum found him in his room the night before the competitions. He'd pulled out his ribbons from the previous years of Goodwill Games and was going through them one by one. He said, "Mummy, I have to. I know that I won't win any tomorrow." And he was quite sad about this. Dash's parents sat down to have a discussion with him and sister Violet right then and there, about good sportsmanship and about how important it is to do the best you can, but when the race is done, the most important thing is how you conduct yourself, regardless of whether you have won or lost the competition.
The day of the Goodwill Games had a foggy start, but the games must go on, and so they did. There were parades and school pride, and school colors and school war cries. Then the games began. Our little Dash competed intensely, again and again, and he was not among the ribbons. His mum noted that he was growing up because, this year, there were no tears of disappointment, even though he was surely very disappointed inside. He simply continued to run every race without stopping even when he was bringing up the rear. He ran his best race again and again. His parents were proud of how hard he tried, but the way to this little guy's heart was a blue ribbon. He wanted a ribbon, and no matter how proud his parents were, it wasn't going to take away that wanting.
His mother watched this day play out, and she grieved a little for her serious little boy in an anxious motherly way. Several races into it, she asked him how he was doing. She nearly burst with pride when he looked at her with his intense little eyes and explained that he'd begun to shake the hands of the winners and congratulate them. It made him feel much better, he told her. His mother darn near busted, she reported, and halfway around the world, I almost busted too.
Sometimes we equate heroism with winning, but to me, a perfect example of heroism has been demonstrated by a small Australian boy who ran with all his heart. He did not win, not once, but in the end, decided that his own disappointment was not the most important thing. In the end, he chose to step forward to congratulate the people who had, moments before, defeated him. In the end, he found that this small act made him feel better. It made his losses easier to bear.
At the end of that day, Dash did not get a ribbon. Not a one. However, his efforts did merit a nice trophy which he gets to keep until next year's Goodwill Games, when it will be returned and awarded to the next hero. Dash had won the "Encouragement Award." He chose not to be discouraged. He chose instead to encourage everyone else around him. His mother has a picture of him in his little blue uniform holding his trophy with that intense and serious look in his little brown eyes.
I hope that my little friend Dash has realized a great truth. Many ribbons were awarded that day. Many athletes were recognized and celebrated there in that small town in the middle of the Australian outback. Where ever we go and wherever we look, we can see that adulation is repeated throughout the world, wherever there is an athletic event of any sort. Athletes are a dime a dozen, and the world has little need for yet another. However, the world can certainly use more heroes.
Well done, Dash. Well done.
Debby Hornburg lives in Scandia and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Should anyone wish to congratulate Dash, you may send that e-mail to me. I will print them off and send them along with the article to his mum who will put them away in his baby album.