Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Where Have All the Heroes Gone?

We are losing our heroes. They are dying off at an unseemly rate. Hundreds if not thousands of World War II veterans die every day. Soon, there will be no more. Our astronauts are aging or dying of disease.

We lost Sally Ride, a hero for women all over the world. We just lost Neil Armstrong, whose "one small step for man" stiffened the shoulders of Americans everywhere. 

I was in a tiny mountain village on that wonderful day. After three weeks in a Zen nunnery, my abbess called me to walk into town with her. We weren't supposed to leave the grounds for the six-week program I'd enrolled in, but this 90+-year-old tiny holy woman walked me down to the town. We stopped in front of a television store, where I swear the entire town's population was standing around, watching grainy black-and-white images of a man in a bulky space suit stepping onto the dusty surface of something other than Earth. I never felt so proud.

Our heroes are leaving us with memories and few people to replace them. No space program, although the men and women at JPL should be recognized as heroes for landing Curiosity on Mars. Every person who served in Iraq and Afghanistan is a hero, but they are unsung. We're not throwing parades. Neither are we throwing insults the Vietnam-era vets received when they came home, broken and bent.

We need heroes. Some are small heroes whom few people will ever meet. Like Travis Redman. Who's Travis Redman? Certainly not a sports star. Travis is nine. He was upset last year when a schoolmate came to school wearing clothes that didn't fit. He asked his legal guardian Joyce Riley if there wasn't something he could do.

From a simple question to a room full of donated clothing, Travis had his answer. Yes, there was something he could do. Travis posted some flyers at local churches, attracted the attention of the Roanoke Times. Before long, donations flooded in. By the time school was a week away, the donations filled an entire room.

Riley washed and folded all the donated clothes, even burning out one washing machine before a friend donated a used replacement. When the day came to distribute the clothing, each child received two outfits, plus shoes purchased from cash donations.

Where have all our heroes gone? They are under our noses. We just need to look harder for them. Like Travis Redman. He saw something he could fix and fixed it. He is my hero.