The Outsiders: Heroes in Our Midst

by Derrick G. Jeter

Note: One of my most popular articles was a piece I wrote a few years back titled, “The Importance of Heroes.” I’ve been pondering the subject of heroes and heroism a lot, and I think Veterans Day is an appropriate occasion to share some of those thoughts about the heroes who live in our midst . . . but just outside of our grasp.
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Heroes don’t cross our paths every day. And if they did, few of us would know it, for heroes—real heroes—don’t advertise. They don’t wear capes and costumes with letters emblazoned across their chests—though some wore, and some wear, uniforms of Army green, Air Force blue, Navy white, Coast Guard blue, and Marine Corps red. These heroes, and others like them who drive cars with flashing lights or storm burning buildings, are the outsiders in our midst.
Thomas Aquinas, the great theological thinker, observed that only the man who is “depraved, a beast as it were” or the man who is “better than a man, a god as it were” is capable of living outside of civil society. This is true of heroes as well. They are neither beasts nor gods, but men and women who live independently and isolated from the community, even in the middle of the community. The heroes we celebrate are somehow other than the common run of humanity. In ancient literature we memorialize Odysseus and Beowulf and Hercules. In the Bible we honor Moses and David and Jesus. In history we look to George Washington and Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa. In comic books we celebrate Batman and Superman and Captain America. And in movies we hold up Shane and Tom Donophan in Liberty Valance and Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Outsiders all, while living in our midst.
Heroes are not made, they are summoned. For the average citizen of society the call of heroism is too great—its demands too costly, its requirements too severe, its rewards, too often, too paltry. Heroes are cut from sterner stuff. They sacrifice their desires, their pleasures, their dreams for the good of others—for the weal of the community. But they do not envy heroism. It is not a calling they seek. Heroes—true heroes—shun the role and deflect the title. Yet the siren call is too powerful to ignore or escape, so they do what they must to maintain human dignity and uphold virtue, even if what they must do is unpleasant. And they do it without theatrics or fanfare. Heroes do what others can’t or won’t do. Some guard lonely posts, patrol dangerous waters, or fly hostile skies—but all work where monsters lurk. Out there beyond civilization is where you will find real heroes—the outsiders, even if they live in our midst.
Perhaps you know one of these outsiders. Today, of all days, if one of them should cross your path would you thank them for their heroism? Would you let them know how grateful the community is for standing on the outside, ever guarding, ever watchful? And if you could spare a moment or two, would you thank the Lord above for sending such outsiders to live in our midst, and ask Him to bless and protect them? They deserve as much from we who are made of the softer stuff.