he·ro /ˈhirō/ noun: a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.
Advice on marathoning:
“A marathon is hundreds of miles. The finish is the last 26.2.” (Unknown)
Since 9/11, the question of “what is a hero?” has come to mind again and again. That event elevated all first responders to hero status, apparently for the duration. The endless wars that followed raised all service people to the same.
But nearly 20 years on, and after Abu Ghraib (remember that?), extra-judicial killings in Iraq and Afghanistan, the drone wars, and the long and growing list of black people killed by police in this country, we know that conferring hero status because of a badge or uniform is mere propaganda.
The thriving Marvel Comic-to-film industry has provided another, culturally appropriate, answer to the “what is a hero?” question. But they are not real, their stories and endless reformulation of the myth of redemptive violence too coarse, and their “collateraless” precision killing too neat for us ever to think a hero could be in any way like them.
But we dream of heroes.
We need them.
I have run one marathon. I barely remember the race, but I will never forget the preparation. The preparation is the marathon in a real sense. It is long and painful.
To say that heroes run marathons is to say that they go through adversity, training, and preparation to become our heroes. They may not yet be nearing the end of the 26.2, but they are out there running it every day. Heroes aren’t heroes unless they are heroing over the long haul–the slog of early mornings and late nights, subject to the elements, with aching muscles and tired feet (some of these literally).
My heroes are people who have been through adversity or are living it every day and, like those running a marathon, move through it to achieve a goal. They are running towards that goal with daily persistence.
Here are three of them:
Kelly Stachowicz is the Assistant City Manager in Davis. I don’t know Kelly’s history, but I know that she has committed to the goal of being the glue for our City every day for more years than I remember. She is the person who takes in the complaints, the anger, the accusations, and the vitriol of the privileged citizens of our town, and returns grace, patience, and kindness.
She has not grown cynical over the years. The adversity she faces–the race she is running–is about making sure everyone is heard no matter how much anger they send her way.
I don’t know what this City will do when the glue leaves. She holds a lot of pieces together. She is my hero.
Gloria Partida is our current Mayor, and her race is better known. A son beaten nearly to death in a homophobic hate crime. Rather than nurse her anger and demand for retribution, she started running. Her marathon is to name the sources of hate in bullying and exclusion that begins at a young age and support processes that address them preventively.
She could have taken off her shoes and used her anger to punish. Instead, she laced them up and looked far down the road to a time when the kind of exclusion that almost killed her child will be done.
I don’t know how you find space to think of preventing future violence in the immediate aftermath of your own violence-induced trauma, but she has. And our community is stronger for it. She is my hero.
Kara Davis is my daughter. When two of her high school friends sat my wife and me down those years ago and told us there was “something wrong with Kara, we suspected that we might be in for an extended period of pain. We were, and she was. Her race was against the demons of anxiety and depression, and there were times when we feared it would end her.
But she faced it with courage, took her stubborn path, ran into some unknown places, and kept going. She had a son, loved a man far from his home, and made a home for him and others. She used her music and her creativity to keep her legs churning. Now she builds a homestead, schools her kids, and carries the burden of children who have been cast out by family, and society, and who have no hope but that which she offers.
I don’t know how you keep moving from a hospital bed, curled in a ball, fearful of everything, to being an agent of healing for the outcast of our world, but she has. She is my hero.
Heroes run marathons, and they know that they have not yet finished the last 26.2 miles.
I’m curious who your marathon heroes are.