Yesterday, we received an unrequested magazine in the mail that looks to be published by folks who want to make the Fargo-Moorhead area a choice place for business and culture and, by the looks of it, going out to bars and buying quartz countertops. Cheri glanced through it, and then exclaimed, “Are you kidding?” She went on to tell me that the article she started to read quickly turned into an ode of praise for the newest category of heroes: bankers.
Yep – that’s what the piece said. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, a group of heroes has arisen, using low interest rates, and possibly gifts if you open up a new checking or savings account, or get one of your friends to do so. These heroes spend tireless hours calculating your loan costs, or refinancing your home – of course, never for their benefit, since they are… heroes, of course. Their sole aim is to make sure that Fargo sails through this time, and people are able to set up IRAs and home equity loans, which although benefits the bank every time someone takes an action, but they are not going to let this opportunity get by them, doggone it…
I threw the magazine away, and then Cheri and I talked a bit about “heroes” in today’s world. Let me say from the outset that I have profound respect for human beings who take on the burden of serving the welfare and needs of people in this world. As I’ve said before, Dad retired as a Lt. Col. in the Air Force, after nearly 30 years of service. I’ve had brothers and nephews who have also served, and my wife serves daily as a nurse practitioner in women’s health. In a far lesser sense, I served for 43 years as a pastor. Folks who serve the world deserve our respect and gratitude, wherever that may be found.
However, I am also a lifelong student of words and language and the power of their true meaning. We have a tendency, at least in the western world, to take words that have a rare and powerful meaning, and downgrade them over the course of time so that they fit a wider and weaker and more common usage. Words like “fantastic,” which used to mean only something that existed in one’s imagination, almost too difficult to describe. Nowadays, it appears to be anything that looks incredible, or we want to give extraordinary position to. Words like, “awful,” which, to break the word down, really does mean full of awe, or awe-inspiring. Somehow, it was transformed into a truly negative word, usually used in my description of lima beans, or bean and bacon soup. Words even like “backlog,” which in colonial times was the giant log set first in the fireplace, that would hold the heat and the fire long after the smaller wood pieces were burned up overnight. Nowadays, of course, it stands for the huge pile of work that remains on your desk, that you have to go through – unless, of course, you are retired, in which case it all slides in the trash. Even the word, “love” has slid down a common path. At one time, the word was used only for the very highest affection one person would have for another, or for some cause or land – it was used sparingly because it was so powerful, and should not be used in a description unless you wanted to convey the deepest and most profound connection you wanted to have with another human being. Nowadays, we “love” to go out to eat, we “love” that new fall color, we “love” the way the plan worked out, or the drive in the country turned out, or the feeling you get when you eat a chocolate covered jalapeno from Widman’s chocolates here is Fargo. Do you see how the impact, with its over-common usage has diminished the impact of such a truly powerful word in our language? I doubt we can ever regain re-place the word or any words in their true positions, now that they have become so casual in their use.
That brings me to the sensitive point of this piece. I believe we are on the edge, if not already crossing over to losing the power and deep meaning of the word, “hero.” I think it’s a fascinating word, coming from the Greek, and maybe even earlier, the word originally meant, “the brave one of the people,” or “a person of superhuman strength or courage.” In Greek mythology, a hero was the child of a god and a mortal, like Hercules. A hero, as a human, was an exceedingly rare and special person, who does something perhaps no one else can do, or exhibits such bravery that leaves us full of awe as we hear about it.
In our culture, Medal of Honor recipients are heroes. “Above and beyond the call of duty” is how they are described. Certainly someone who acts with no concern for herself or himself in performing a deed that preserves or saves the life or lives of others could be included in that category as well. There perhaps are a couple of other definitions that would fit this rare and important description. I believe it is one of our more important words to preserve in our language.
My concern, then, is that in our effort as a culture to reach as far as we can to thank those who care for us, especially during troubling times, we have possibly drafted this special word, and expanded its place to include almost anyone who does something good. Please understand – I have nothing but respect for those persons, but I would ask us to consider not using the word “hero” unless it fits that narrow place.
My dad was in the military – he won the Distinguished Flying Cross – he gave his life to serve our country. He was a patriot, and someone to be honored. I think however, that he would balk at the idea of being known as a hero, simply because he served in the protection of our country. In every generation of family from the 1620s to now in this country, we have had military relatives, and I would guess that none of them would consider themselves heroes. Deserving to be thanked for their service, indeed. Heroes of those rare-air acts? Perhaps not. Having earned respect and gratitude? Absolutely.
There are others who have served and serve today – medical personnel, emergency personnel, police and more are also incredibly important and respected persons in my book. Not all, however, have either acted in a way, nor been ever given the opportunity to act in a way that would be defined as heroic – a few, certainly, but blanket stamp the title on a position, instead of an action seems to me to create something more common than rare and exceptional.
Because you see, in this season, I’ve heard that if you wash your hands and wear a mask you are a hero. If you social distance, you are a hero. If you teach your children at home, you are a hero. If you buy what you need in your life locally instead of online, you are a hero. And, like I said, if you are a banker? Nice people, I’m sure but deserving of the hero title? What have we done to this powerful and exceptional word that we are stewards of not only for our generation, but for the future?
I wouldn’t imagine to change your mind and your way of addressing others – I’d just hope you might offer respect and thanks, but save that title for the one or ones who truly are heroes in our world. Thanks for thinking about this today.
Word for the day: gargalesthesia. Pronounced gar-ga-less-THEE- zee-a. It comes from the Greek, which it sounds like it should, gargalizo, which is a word every language should have. It means “to tickle.” Gargalesthesia is the sensation of being tickled, probably to the point of laughter. Boy have always loved to tickle girls. It may be part of the DNA. Just always remember that a little gargalizo is fine, leading to a nice happy gargalesthesia, but too much is just plain too much. At that point it’s just mean, and probably deserves an elbow to the stomach.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.