Re: Hero

In a recent New York Times crossword I found the clue ‘Rescuer’ and it had me stumped for most of the puzzle. A four letter answer was required and it started with the letter H. Finally solving the other words forced me to see it was HERO. I spent the rest of that afternoon thinking about what a hero is to me.

Words are fascinating in that they require a definition. Discovering the meaning of a word can be tricky depending on context within a sentence, the tone of voice of the speaker, grammatical origins and even body language can be an important criterion for understanding. My first thought regarding the word Hero was not concerning rescuing, although I see it now. Perhaps it is because almost everyone these days is referred to as a hero. The term is so ubiquitous that it reminds me of the trend to present a Participation Award to anyone who shows up for an event.

If I was rescued from certain death I might refer to my saviour as a hero whether they be male or female (the feminized word heroine is simply awful). From childhood onward, people who have done heroic deeds have enthralled me. Boys of my age would have read tales of knights rescuing damsels, of sheriffs bringing justice to the American west, of explorers sailing the seven seas, or of ball players making baseball diamonds sparkle with their talent. As I got older my definition of an act of heroism became more philosophical and broader in scope to include those who challenged the status quo. These ‘idea heroes’ may not have been active in a physical sense, but their abstract thinking made them stand apart from the crowd.

Hero is an overused word and doesn’t belong with every expression of gratitude. Confusing fame or institutional power with heroism gets me in a bit of an anxious knot. Comic book heroes won’t save us. Some modern songs suggest we crave, even worship, the idea of a personal hero. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWcASV2sey0

Media personalities are often over quoted merely due to their celebrity. I wonder why the military profession is automatically tagged as being heroic. I’m not even sure bravery is a prerequisite for being a hero; determination certainly, and a sense of selflessness but most rescuers report they didn’t feel courageous at the time of the call for help.

I believe extraordinary constructive behaviour is heroic. Citizens who make an unselfish contribution to their communities are heroic. I would label some Olympic level athletes heroes just as I would someone who has devoted their life to an artistic passion. Folks might begin their personal list of heroes with Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Sylvia Pankhurst, or Linus Pauling. Pick a professional discipline, set some criteria, define parameters and let the list making begin! The debate might get heated determining which of those named are either Noteworthy, Great, or Truly Heroic. Be prepared to be convinced when someone asserts, “My dad is my hero.”

Re: Fado

Don’t you wish there was a word that exactly described the way you were feeling at its moment of intensity? Right now I’m feeling a sense in my chest of heaviness but not really heaviness. It’s a sadness or melancholy, but not really. I’ve a yearning for something I can’t quite put my finger on yet I know I’ve felt this way before. I don’t really need anything and I’m not wanting anyone to worry about me. Indescribable! In Portugal these feelings might be defined as saudade. In France maybe the word ennui comes close. I’ve been known to use the word angst to describe these rainy day feelings. Yet I’m not glum.

Feelings are inevitably hard to express because our words come from our thinking brain and often the emotional brain denies us access to its word bank. When emotions overcome us, people might ask what is on our mind and we’d be at a loss to describe it. That’s one reason art is so important. Through artistic expression we are able to show our feelings without needing words. We may sing the blues in the shower, redecorate a bedroom, go for a walk to commune with trees or read a book to allow the words of others to light our way through the mystery and misery of the unexplainable.

As a young parent I used to ask my children, when they were in an emotional spin, to take a crayon and show me how they were feeling on a piece of paper or cardboard. Sometimes they just scribbled through their tears. After calmness entered, we sat together looking over what had been created. The effort to represent something beyond words provided an opening for dialogue and deeper understanding.

In Portugal a musical form called Fado is an attempt to capture the feelings of saudade.

It’s difficult to listen to a Fado singer and not feel moved to tears. I’ve felt a yearning coupled with a realism. It is a musical genre that can awaken things that we may wish to keep hidden.

Strangely I felt this same feeling of saudade while talking to Newfoundlanders. Particularly if the topic turns to cod fishing or maritime rescues. Maybe it is a common awareness of those who live by and from the sea. The salt air finds a way into the souls of these men and women.

My most recent saudade has come from my experience with Canada’s observance of Remembrance Day. This year I took part in a gathering of two dozen individuals from age twenty to ninety who chose to wear a white poppy. https://peacepoppies.ca/
I wore my white poppy because it came closest to describing my feelings about war. https://globalnews.ca/news/4550164/white-poppies-remembrance-day/

My lapel poppy pin expressed for me, without words, why I attended this Nov. 11 service and therefore reduced my angst. Perhaps I’ll write a Fado song next year.