Who are your heroes?
The answer to that question depends on your definition of a hero. In the Supernatural world the answer is obvious. It is Sam and Dean. After all, their family motto begins with "Saving People" and they mean that quite literally. Together they have saved countless individuals from nightmares beyond anyone's belief. If saving people is the first criterion of being a hero, they have certainly done enough to qualify for hero status.
A second test to be considered a hero usually involves some amount of selflessness. As with true heroes, Sam and Dean's dedication to helping other people often requires them to put their own lives at risk. Indeed, Dean is so cavalier with his own life that Sam has had to restrain him from suicide missions more than once. While being slightly less kamikaze-minded, Sam is also self-sacrificing. In "Two Minutes to Midnight" (5.21) Bobby said of Sam, "I watched that kid pull one civilian out after another. Must have saved 10 people. Never stopped. Never slowed down. He's been running into burning building since he was 12".
So our reluctant heroes have dedicated their lives to saving strangers, regardless of the cost to themselves. They work together, as a team, to save as many people as possible from monsters, evil, demons and death. Their crusade has even brought them face to face with the end of the world more than once, but together they always found a way to save humanity from annihilation. When faced with the biblical Apocalypse, Sam had to literally sacrifice himself to let Lucifer take possession of his body in a final battle of wills. Unable to ever abandon his brother or the cause, Dean then put himself on the line by brazenly challenging Lucifer in an effort to reach Sam. Together they succeeded because Dean was able to give Sam's consciousness enough preeminence to overpower the Devil. Two years later, Sam and Dean again saved the world from a Soylent Green fate by defeating Dick Roman and the Leviathans. So the brothers are true heroes on a global scale!
Sam and Dean were never alone on their apocalyptic, heroic missions, though. When listing the heroes of the Supernatural world, I would have to add Castiel to the list of humanity's guardians. Since he made himself known to the boys, Castiel repeatedly saved their lives and the lives of countless individuals. There is no doubt he made mistakes, but he was also the person that retrieved both Sam and Dean from Hell (one a little more successfully than the other); brought people back to life so often it is now almost expected; and sacrificed himself to distract Michael, to return the stolen souls to Purgatory, and to kill Dick Roman. So Castiel has also met the criteria for epic hero.
Then there is Bobby. He was often in the field saving people and hunting things. He lost his soul to the cause, was electrocuted to death, had his neck broken by Lucifer and ultimately was shot in the head by Dick Roman. No doubt that his death(s) qualify him as a hero. Yet I would postulate that Bobby's role as a hero to Sam, Dean and the rest of the hunting world was cemented not in the field, but right at his desk, in his home, with his books and on the phone. The hunters on the field of battle would never have had the weapons they needed to fight evil without Bobby's research, intelligence and guidance. So if he was a hero long before he died a hero's death, what then makes someone a hero?
Articles on the subject are quick to offer definitive lists of what makes up a hero. One article listed four criteria, another article listed ten, while yet another listed twelve characteristics of a hero (the higher the number, the more complicated were the actions needed to become a hero!). The list of traits of a Shakespearean tragic hero was even longer, with the 14th item on the list being "He has to die" 1. If Bobby was a hero to the brothers long before he died, then what made him a hero? Was it being a father figure to them when they needed stability and love? Was it constantly guiding their actions so they knew they could always count on someone who had their backs? Don't we all then have heroes in our lives?
While I was contemplating this question, I resumed my daily routine, which on this particular day involved an exercise class. In that class of all places, I saw a hero. Please bear with me as I explain. This particular class was a Zumba class. For anyone not into this latest form of aerobic torture, Zumba is an hour long class where you dance, jump and otherwise wear yourself out to music (usually Latin style). My Zumba class is comprised of approximately 50 women and 3 men, plus the male instructor. Last night two new people snuck into the class about 5 minutes late (I was already gasping for air at that point!). The young lady was holding the hand of a young man, pulling him along into the last row of the class. The girl immediately joined the dancing, remarkably able to pick up on the routine and keep up with the pace of the music. The guy stood noticeably close to his girlfriend, moving slightly less than if he had been forced to the edge of a train platform filled with people. He remained so close to her the whole time that she was in constant danger of being tripped by his feet. He was clearly uncomfortable being in this class. He stood with his head down, eyes averted, waving his hands a few times and circling her, feigning participation. Yet he stayed. He endured the entire hour, with her. I don't know their story. I don't know if she was too shy to stray into a new class alone, or if she thought this might be a good thing to do together, but it was obvious that she wanted him there. He, on the other hand, wanted to be anywhere but in this room filled with sweating, dancing women. Yet he stayed. As I looked at them I thought, "He is her hero". For on that night, he selflessly, courageously gave himself up for her. He saved her. So that started me thinking about real life heroes.
Sam and Dean save the Supernatural world, but there are people who come close to that in the real world every day. Some, like Commander Hadfield, inspire world peace by sending poetic pictures and commentaries of Earth's beauty from the International Space Station to millions of homes in virtually every country on the globe. Some change the direction of a country, like Nelson Mandela or Lech Walesa. Our own Misha gave a home to children in a ravaged country by using his popularity as an actor, his natural talent for organization and vision, and the enthusiasm and energy of his fans all over the world to build an orphanage and school in Haiti.
So some real heroes do operate on a global scale. Others save hundreds of people, but work quietly or anonymously, like the intelligence operative who averts a terrorist attack on a major city, or a soldier who saves a native village. Then there are those who work closer to home, like the Arizona Hotshots who died fighting a wildfire, or my daughter's friend Kevin, a volunteer firefighter who ran into the burning building in West, Texas and lost his life.
We don't all face such dramatic circumstances in our lives, though. We can't all live the life of a hero. We can, though, choose to be heroic every day. We can each choose actions that save the day for the average, ordinary human beings that share our lives, our neighborhoods, our stores, our streets and our schools. We can save the day for them. We can be their heroes.
Once I embraced the quiet, mundane heroic model that Bobby followed from his disheveled kitchen and paper strewn office, examples of everyday heroes flooded my mind. I thought of several people who have impacted my life or the lives of people close to me in heroic ways. Let me share with you the stories of a few of the heroes I have personally witnessed:
- A small company executive had to fill one open position in his firm. There were several young candidates for the job plus one 55 year old woman who had been previously laid off from her job. This hopeful candidate was alone with her mortgage, two cats and a shrinking bank account. She had been tirelessly looking for a job for 18 long months. In finally choosing her over the cheaper, less-experienced candidates, this company executive saved her from her joblessness. He gave her a place to belong again, an income and financial security. In no small way, this company executive's willingness to risk his reputation on the less obvious choice made him a hero to the tired job-seeker.
- Then there was an accomplished entrepreneur who was professionally embarrassed by a friend's actions. He had vouched for this friend who, weighted with his own human burdens, wasn't able to live up to either of their expectations. Despite the potential risk, the man didn't give up on his friend. Instead, he reached out to him, offering him help yet again. He didn't judge or ask for explanation, he just essentially said "I am still here to help, no matter what", offering forgiveness, support and understanding without asking for anything in return. That man was a hero to a person who was down on his luck and desperately needed a second chance.
- Years ago there was a college roommate who knew her friend needed one more extra credit grade to get the "A" she wanted in her last senior level class. Out of time, the senior had given up on being able to achieve her goal. Her roommate saw her disappointment and quietly stayed up all night to write the required extra credit paper. She then put her friend's name on it and gave it to her on the last day before final exams, with a note that said "Merry Christmas". In that room, in that moment, a very tired girl was a hero to a very surprised senior.
- There was a professional singer who volunteered at an elementary school. One day she brought a young student in front of the entire school and sang a duet with her. The young girl was one of those kids who never knew how to fit in, didn't make friends easily, and couldn't explain or express herself well. She didn't really have friends and wasn't invited to birthday parties. Her innocence kept her from knowing that most kids are too self-conscious to sing in front of a crowd. When the accomplished singer gave this young girl a place of honor, stood next to her and showed that she had something to offer, she endorsed her as a person. That singer was a hero to that student's mom, who had tears in her eyes throughout the entire song and who to this day can't think about that moment without shedding tears of joy.
- Then there were the three ladies who invited a woman to sit down and have lunch with them the first time she attended a fan convention. They didn't know her and she had nothing really to offer them but a deer-in-the-headlights look, but they took her under their wing and make her feel welcome. This has played itself out endless other times when someone is alone at that awkward social event and a sympathetic, outgoing person walks over to start a conversation. Those people are heroes.
- Lastly, a few weeks ago a database administrator stayed up until 4 a.m. trying to convert her website to a larger platform, so thousands of people who have never met could have a place to talk to each other, share friendship, companionship, have their ideas and their emotions validated, gain confidence in their writing or their art, or just have fun. She is their hero.
We have all read stories of the husband, boyfriend, girlfriend or parent who used their own vacation money to buy someone a ticket to a Supernatural convention. The shy or money-conscious fans would never have presumed to spend the money on themselves, but knowing how important it was to them, their partners in life made a sacrifice for the person they love. Throughout the world, our family and friends sit quietly with us as we scream, gasp, laugh and cry to every episode of Supernatural that appears on our screens. They allow us to be passionate over fictional characters, they don't complain (too much) as we steal time to read articles on fan websites and chat with friends we'll never meet. They allow and encourage us to follow our passion and expose our deepest emotions. They give up time with us, foregoing jealousy, envy and control, as they lovingly sacrifice something of themselves for our happiness. They are our heroes.
A hero is the person that lets you go in front of them in the grocery market check-out line, when you are in a hurry and are going to be late picking up your kids at school. A hero is the mother who has been a widow for 40 years, has survived two near-fatal diseases and still calls all her grown children everyday to see how they are and if she can do anything to help them. A hero is the friend who tells you about a doctor or a Tai Chi class or a meditation ritual that finally saves you from the debilitating headaches that have plagued you your whole life.
I think Sam, Dean, Cas and Bobby would be proud of these heroes. I think Jo and Ellen and Pamela would approve. I think Gabriel would wink, Samandriel would smile and Balthazar would drink a toast to these heroes. I think Mary would hug and John and Henry would want to shake the hands of these heroes.
So my heroes have kindness and the courage to do something different than everyone else. They are selfless, acting on the instinct to help others rather than hoping or wishing for the best. They save the day for one person, for one day. They may not be epic or tragic heroes, but they might just be the heroes we all need in our lives. Of all the quotes about heroism that I found, I think the quote from Edgar Watson Howe is particularly relevant and poignant:
"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"2
That's my definition of a hero. I am inspired by the heroes I admire on Supernatural. They help me find the courage to be better, to take action, to keep going no matter what the odds, but most of all, to not be afraid. Having been lucky enough to have found them, I now want them in my life as motivation and encouragement. I don't want to have their life, but maybe I want to be like them, just a little.
So who are the heroes in your life and how do they inspire you?
3. As always, thanks to Supernaturalwiki.com and HomeoftheNutty.com for article references and pictures.