Thursday, March 15, 2007

We’ve Forgotten What Real Heroes Look Like

Real heroes aren’t always photogenic.

Yesterday, Poland honored Irena Sendler for her efforts in saving 2,500 Jewish children during World War II. Sendler, a young mother, was a social worker in Warsaw, and a member of Zegota, a Polish underground devoted to saving Jews. She risked her life to smuggle 2,500 children out of the Warsaw ghetto and hide them in orphanages and convents.

Reading the news items about Sendler, it’s hard not to notice how different she is from today’s erstwhile heroes. Our contemporary heroes are celebrities, people who look good on baseball diamonds, on movie screens and on the red carpet at the Oscars. The “entertainment media” (I’m not making this phrase up!) breathlessly follows their every move. These celluloid heroes have our undivided attention, and are famous for being famous.

In actuality, a real hero doesn’t look good; they do good. And after they’ve done good, they don’t revel in self congratulation, but rather think about what more they could have done. Irena has said: "I could have done more…..this regret will follow me to my death.".

Irena is a genuine hero. And like all good heroes she knows that heroism is not a hobby; it is meant to be the vocation of mankind. Or, to put it in Irena’s words:

"Every child saved with my help and the help of all the wonderful secret messengers, who today are no longer living, is the justification of my existence on this Earth, and not a title to glory."

I wish the justification for my existence on earth was as good as Irena’s.

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