Heroes

Be strong.

Simple words. Meaningful. Powerful.

The human spirit is remarkable. It’s the one true thing that no one ever can take from us.

It’s where our resolve comes from when we think we can’t go one more step, when we feel like we have nothing left to give, when we simply want to give up. It picks us up, dusts us off and propels us forward and upward. It’s our will to live, our ability to love, our very fortitude.

And it’s our courage that is continually tested on a daily basis.

We see it every day in the world of sports. Athletes giving their all is what make us love them, root for them, follow them like the fans we so proudly call ourselves. We identify with them, revel in their greatness, celebrate their feats. We share in their successes and failures, laugh and cry with them, cheer and jeer them. And we love every minute of it because we wouldn’t have it any other way.

We, the fans, are just your everyday, average Joes and Jills. But when we watch our beloved athletes and teams, the world and all of its problems go away for a few hours while we lose ourselves in the excitement that is sports and imagine it is us doing something special to elicit the roar of a crowd. It only lasts a little while, this state of nirvana, but the feelings, the highs and lows, the pure rapture we experience when we watch our idols compete always remain with us.

Clutch hits, game-winning field goals, overtime shootouts and the like aside, I’ve had the honor of knowing many everyday heroes who never have been, nor ever will be in the national or international spotlights. And they prefer it that way.

I’ve seen a young soccer coach battle a rare form of brain cancer permanently attached to her nerve endings, laugh about what she called the hole in her head and continue on with her life as though she never had to stare death in the face. Never mind that she never will be in remission for obvious reasons. She enjoys each day as if it is her last, and that is the way life really should be lived. I wish everyone could see the world through her eyes.

I also found out after the fact that a good friend from high school bravely battled terminal brain cancer while having to come to terms with the knowledge that he was going to be leaving behind two sons and a wife. His family was his whole world. He raised his youngest sister like she was his daughter because no one else was around to do it. But that’s the kind of person he was: Family first. And now that same sister is raising his boys since his passing five years ago to this day, in fact, and having known him and just how much he cherished his family, I know they are with the right person. Such selfless acts of love are the very definition of heroism, at least to my way of thinking.

I’ve spoken at length to the brother of a friend about Hurricane Sandy and what it did to just one of many communities along the East Coast in 2012. There wasn’t time to wait for aid to arrive, so neighbors helped each other because, as he put it, that’s just what they do. No one but them will ever truly know the devastation they experienced, nor will anyone know the names of all the heroes who not only rescued their own, but provided food, clothing and shelter to those who lost everything. Well, that’s not entirely true. They survived, and that is a testament to the unyielding strength and will of the human spirit.

On a daily basis, we hear of heroics in war, natural disasters and tragedies so horrific, they make us question our own humanity and capacity to love because we can’t believe our fellow man would commit such unthinkable acts. And yet, it happens every day. We see it on television, read about it. In real life, we always hear more about the perpetrators than the victims and heroes. And, sadly, there’s a saying in the journalism world that is the ugliest truth of them all: If it bleeds, it leads.

More recently, on a quiet day in April, two men took it upon themselves to do harm to those running, watching and working a historic sporting event in Boston. Two bombs exploded just before the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 260. A police officer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology later was allegedly killed by the duo and another was injured during a firefight with the brothers. And who knows how many others will forever be affected by the events of that fateful day? Their lives will never, ever be the same.

What really resonated with me was not only how the people of Boston came together then, but how they continue to stick together. They celebrate and applaud the heroes and survivors, rather than dwell on the extremist acts of two men who had no regard whatsoever for the lives of others.

They’ve had a mantra since April: Boston strong. Or, if you look at the players’ jerseys from the Boston Red Sox, the patches on the sleeves simply read: B STRONG. Some people have recently complained about the commercialization of the phrase paying homage to the victims and heroes of the marathon bombings. Do I think Major League Baseball should profit from it? No. Do I believe in it, in the sincerity of the city’s athletes when they say it over and over and over again? Hell yes, I do.

I’m a longtime Atlanta Braves fan, but I have a soft spot for the Red Sox. Partly because my husband is such a huge fan. But mostly because it’s hard not to cheer for a diverse group of athletes who love their adopted city the way they do and have displayed a collectively unselfish demeanor that, frankly, is quite rare in sports these days.

I can’t help but root for this scruffy bunch of guys and their “Fear the Beard” motto signifying an unbreakable team unity that dates back to spring training earlier this year. They went from worst to first a season ago, from infighting to a togetherness that reminds me of a close-knit family, from throwing games away to finding the most thrilling ways to win at the damnedest of times. And they’ve done it all with a first-year manager who not only believes in his players, but stands up for them like a dad would his precious children.

They’ve helped to renew my love for a sport that has been maligned for years by players using steroids and human growth hormones. And for what? More money? You won’t find any prima-donna superstars on this team, but you will see the unlikeliest of heroes perform feats you just don’t see every day, leaving you shaking your head in wonder trying to fathom how they hell they just did THAT.

However the World Series plays out between the Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals, which, by the way, is 1-1 so far, the cohesiveness of the city of Boston has served as a daily reminder to me of the resilience of the human spirit. The Red Sox, in my humble opinion, sincerely embody that belief. And because of that, I can identify with them as regular human beings rather than the sports gods we tend to place on pedestals.

But then, you don’t have to be a baseball or a sports fan of any kind to figure out that life really does go on, things really do get better, hope really will always rise above despair, everything really will be all right. We just have to be strong, and believe in ourselves.

We are all heroes to someone in our everyday lives. We’re simply not aware of it because it’s just what WE do.

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