Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes


Archive for October 17th, 2009


Heroes are everywhere 4

Posted on October 17, 2009 by jimparedes

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“Where I’m from, everyone’s a hero.” So reads a sign put up by someone on Facebook to describe the outpouring of help from Filipinos here at home and all over the world to the victims of the twin tragedies that have befallen Luzon. Not since the EDSA revolution have we felt so good about ourselves as a people.

I am moved by the efforts of the many good people who have responded to the call for help in the wake of the devastating floods. I catch myself choking on my tears when I hear or read about the great suffering of many and the compassionate heroic work being done by our fellow Filipinos to alleviate the pain of others. It is truly awesome and inspiring.

There are many tales of selflessness in the midst of all the hardship. And this seems to be happening more often since President Cory Aquino passed away. As a people, we seem to have reacted differently to these present tragedies and disappointments compared to before. It’s as if our greatness has been awakened and we are surprising even ourselves.

Many people seem to just naturally come to the conclusion that there are a lot of things that need to be done but, unlike before, they are not about to pass on the job to someone else. They are taking over the situation by volunteering in relief centers, setting up soup kitchens, countering the sense of helplessness they have often felt in the face of tragedy.

There are encouraging signs that we are in a “oneness” mode. Everyone seems to be generously pitching in their time and resources to help all who are suffering get through the next meal or the next day, and rebuild their lives. The word that comes to mind is “heroic.”

Author Rob Riley wrote, “Hard times don’t create heroes. It is during the hard times when the hero within us is revealed.”

These past weeks, I have been thinking about what heroes are like. What constitutes an act of heroism? How does one become a hero? As a people, we have met at least two of them in the past 30 years: Ninoy and Cory Aquino. There are many others who are unsung, but bona fide heroes nonetheless. At the very least they are, one might say, the people who have kept us from failing entirely in our search for the path to our greatness. By their examples, we have been inspired to continue our wandering in the desert despite periods of national aimlessness and spiritual and moral dysfunction.

Heroic acts come in many sizes and dimensions. I know of schoolchildren who have been giving their baon or allowances to the victims of the typhoons. Some others have opted to give their time working in relief centers packing food, or being part of the human chain delivering survival kits from warehouses to waiting trucks. Some have braved the floods, mud and stench to help in food distribution.

And yet, heroism is not always about what one has done; sometimes it is about what one has opted not to do that makes one a hero. Someone once wrote that a boy doesn’t have to go to war to be a hero. “He can say he doesn’t like pie when he sees there isn’t enough to go around.”

There are the people who decided not to hold the long-planned lavish birthday party, or gave up the vacation abroad and instead contributed what they would have spent to help the homeless. I include in this list those who opted not to criticize for now the pitifully inadequate efforts done by the government to make sure that there is no further buildup of anger and frustration, and to encourage everyone to focus on the task at hand.

Then there is also the hero who not only shows up ready to help when a crisis happens, but is willing to stay, fix the mess and clean up. They commit to the long haul. These are people who go beyond the initial oceanic feeling of compassion that one feels in the presence of suffering, and are willing to do whatever is needed, committing to whatever it takes to alleviate it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson put it aptly when he wrote, “A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.”

A hero is one who can go beyond the “feel good” moment one experiences when giving and go a farther distance even when the night continues to be dark and the light seems far from appearing. This is even more dramatically true when it is clear that the light at the end of the tunnel could be an onrushing train. With more suffering ahead and no relief in sight, he stares down the hopelessness and resists the temptation to throw in the towel with the often-valid excuse that he has “done enough.”

Emerson was right in describing the hero as an “ordinary man.” After all, everyone feels fear, doubt and hesitation. We all vacillate from time to time. But a hero, while feeling all these things, goes ahead and does what needs to be done.

Like Oskar Schindler, the man who saved many Jews from the Holocaust, the brave Filipinos who risked their lives swimming in the flood to save others must have felt the weight of the challenge to do the right thing as being too heavy for their feet of clay. Even Jesus, by all accounts, doubted the wisdom of His Father and questioned His own mission orders. But what made them heroes is that they went ahead and did it, despite the fear.

But however we define a hero, one thing is clear. A hero is someone who already had something percolating inside him or her. When things get stirred up, something happens to the arrangement of his or her priorities, values and station in life.

They see themselves torn between staying within the confines of the known, the comfortable and the convenient, and setting out in the open sea where one could lose sight of one’s origins with no clear destination appearing just yet. In the end, the choice either way is painfully personal.

“A hero shows you how to solve the problem — yourself,” Jet Li, the director of hero movies, said.

The hero is called to commit to the unknown while clinging to a notion that things may get better. In the end, the hero is one who commits to something bigger than himself. It may demand that he commit the rest of his life, or even lose it.

Right now, many Filipinos are undertaking the heroic task of helping as many people as we can to recover from these calamities and move on. Some will be there for a while. Some may be touched more and stay for far longer.

An English proverb describes a hero as “a man who is afraid to run away.” May we be afraid to run away and do the job until it is finished.

There is every reason to believe that the tragedies that have befallen our people, horrible as they are, have their upside because so many of us have been forced to think outside of ourselves and do something for others. I pray that this rude awakening will inspire us to the collective action necessary to finally get us back on the road to recovering the spirit of EDSA I, the event that, 23 years ago, made us all feel like the heroes we can all become.


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