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Slices of Life: Heroes among us

Jill Pertler

You might find them wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. They can be dressed in Sunday's best. Others are outfitted in a baseball cap and sports jersey. They may be in pajamas or in shorts and a wide-brimmed hat to ward off the sun. Some wear yesterday's T-shirt paired with barely combed hair and weary eyes.

Not all heroes wear capes.

Some are too tired to put on their capes. Some may not remember where they put their capes. Some perhaps never even had a cape. Probably most never did, because not all heroes set out to be heroes. That hardly ever happens.

The dictionary defines "hero" as someone who is daring, epic, noble, valiant, dauntless, a demigod and a whole bunch of other super-powerful, Superman-like adjectives. It is also the term for a submarine sandwich, but we aren't talking about that kind of hero today.

We are referring to the hero as a person, with or without a cape (but probably without) who is epic and valiant and noble, but probably doesn't even realize it because they are too busy being a hero to recognize that they are one.

Confusing, I know. But being a hero is confusing sometimes, most times. It's because often you don't even know you are a hero until a long time after the fact, and maybe not ever.

It's a big change from the movies and on TV where heroes swoop in to save the day. They fly through the air and leap over skyscrapers like it's no big deal.

Real life heroes walk on the ground, or maybe drive minivans, but they don't fly — at least not without an airline ticket. They take the elevator because they lack the ability to leap buildings in a single bound. They can't bend steel with their bare hands but they are strong nonetheless. Dauntless and heroic.

We often think of military personnel, police officers and doctors who save lives as heroes. They are, to be sure. I don't want to undermine or degrade the definition, but there are other heroes who are just as real as Superman or Wonder Woman. They come in all shapes and sizes and typically don't stand out in a crowd or even have their own logo. They walk amongst us without us even knowing. We are them without even knowing.

Because sometimes our actions have a heroic-like impact on others without us being overtly cognizant of it. We're just living our everyday lives and don't realize the extent of how our behaviors affect others. But they do.

Not all acts of heroism save lives or cities or even the universe. On rare days, we have the opportunity to carry out a large gesture. Birthing a baby. Saving someone from bankruptcy. Changing someone's life by saying "I do."

More commonly small acts of potential heroism cross our paths. Smiling at a stranger. Watching your child scale the steps of the kindergarten bus for the first time. Walking despite the pain. Getting up for the third time in the middle of the night to deal with a teething baby. Visiting your mom with Alzheimer's and answering — with a smile — when she asks again, "Who are you?" Making a marriage work for 10, 20, 30 or 60 years. Putting on a brave face despite what you are going through in real life. Just being kind.

Whether grandiose or routine, I'd like to suggest all these examples have the potential to be epic and valiant and noble with results that last from minutes to a lifetime. All are worthy and worthwhile. That equals heroic in my book. You don't even need a cape to carry them out.

We all can be heroes. Maybe we already are.

Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

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