Last week on Lexington Avenue I witnessed a new breed of hero. I was walking with my ten-year-old daughter when we heard yelling behind us. We turned around to see a man in a suit cursing at three construction workers. He continued to yell profanities as he walked down the block towards us. One of the workmen, sick of his bravado, called his bluff. “Let’s go” he yelled, and the two men walked towards each other, fists up.
The workman grabbed the man by his suit collar and threw a punch. The man in the suit fell to the side, his ego hurt more than his jaw. He recovered quickly, ready for round two. One of the other workmen stepped in and shoved him hard down to the ground. People started gathering at the edges of the brawl, including a few strong-looking men, but no one intervened. I took my phone out, planning to film the fight if it escalated. My daughter’s safety was my priority so that was all I could think to do.
Then, bursting through the crowd of gawkers leaped a petite, twenty-something woman screaming “Cut it out!” She fearlessly placed herself between the three male bodies pumping with adrenaline. The man in the suit tried to dart around her and resume the fight. She shifted her stance to block him. “Stop” she screamed again. It was awesome to behold. No one in the crowd moved to back her, but it didn’t matter, she had it under control.
I started crying as we walked away, the emotion catching me by surprise. “What are you crying about?” My daughter asked annoyed. I told her that I was crying with joy. In just a few moments, that feminine powerhouse gave me immense hope for the future.
We all love heroes. They inspire us to step up in our own lives. They make us feel the world is good and that we are safe. So why do we spend so much time focusing on the villains when what we focus on becomes our reality? When I look for the heroes, I expand into something mightier than the collection of opinions that form my identity. How much time do you spend looking for heroes?
The word hero traces back to Ancient Greece. Heroes in Greek mythology often had divine ancestry and were men and women of special strength, courage or ability. Many of the greatest Greek heroes were also deeply flawed. If your definition of a hero doesn’t allow for anything less than perfection, it’s no wonder everyone resembles a villain.
Most of us look up to the well-known biography worthy heroes. We forgive their flaws because they are dead. My top two are Mother Teresa and Gandhi because they devoted their lives to causes greater than themselves. I once placed them on pedestals and stood paralyzed nearby in awe. Their contributions were too sizable to replicate in my mundane life as a mother. I believed that if I couldn’t move to Calcutta, my impact would always fall short of substantial. Once I awakened to the fact that we all share energy, all the time, I realized that anyone who strives to serve others with kindness and compassion is a hero, including me.
In New York City, I live near a small fire station. I pass by it on purpose when my schedule allows. Pausing across the street, I have watched the firemen work together to complete simple tasks like hoisting the flag or painting the façade. I have also seen them rushing to a fire, becoming one organism as they grab equipment and ready the truck. It’s bold and beautiful and easy to miss amidst the cacophonic New York City landscape. On the days I unhook from the endless stream of Thayer radio and get present to the lives of the men who are willing to rush into a burning building, something transformative happens. The awe-inspiring nature of their commitment shifts my thinking and my day.
So many of us are already heroes or heroes just waiting for an opportunity to rise. You can catch glimpses of heroes in small gestures. The kindness of a tattooed skateboarder who offered me his subway seat after I tripped in high heels, cracked my heart wide open the other day. And once you start to look for the heroes instead of the villains, you will realize that you are surrounded. It’s a beautiful feeling.