Editor’s Note: Jonathan Agin penned this piece two years ago for the Huffington Post. The only things that have changed since then are the additional faces of the small heroes each year.
Each year, toward the middle of December, there is a lot of discussion about who has been a hero in the last twelve months. Who is a hero, what have they done?
It truly amazes me the people who we gravitate towards and idolize and place on this list. I suppose that ultimately it is a matter of personal preference and outlook on life; however we place way too much emphasis upon those individuals who are undeserving.
I am not a fan of Amy Winehouse’s music, yet I can appreciate the fact that she had an amazing voice and incredible talent. Nonetheless, the fact that so much outpouring was expressed about her death frustrated me. Here we are as a society idolizing a woman who took an amazing gift and destroyed every last bit. She killed herself through a lifetime of drugs and alcohol despite the efforts of many to save her. Despite this knowledge, she is celebrated and remembered essentially as a hero. Tributes are paid to her almost on a daily basis.
Contrast someone like Winehouse with a sick child who never asked for her disease. Spend one hour in a pediatric oncology ward at any hospital across the United States and you instantly will come to understand the word “hero.” Watch as a child, bald and gaunt from the ravages of cancer, smiles and does laps around the ward as the most toxic substances drip into her veins. That is a hero. Sit amongst several children as a nurse tries to find a vein over and over again, the children not fighting, but rather sitting there as they are stuck two, three, four and five times, simply to be given medicine. That is a hero. Watch as your child is sedated for the seventieth time with propofol and does not complain.That is a hero.
You see, we idolize celebrity in this country. We watch as the Kardashians prance around endlessly displaying an inane sense of entitlement. We grieve for the loss of Michael Jackson who used propofol as a sleep aide. And yes, we look past Amy Winehouse killing herself and pay tribute to her, forgetting completely how she died.
My daughter, Alexis Agin, was a hero. Diagnosed with terminal brain cancer at 27 months old, she never once complained, accepted all the treatments we put her through, and sat by while she was poked and prodded for 33 months. She battled with bravery against a disease that has a 99 percent mortality rate, and she did so all with a smile and a grace that we as adults rarely demonstrate. She faced odds that have not changed in over 30 years, yet she prevailed on so many levels. That is a hero.
As we wind down this year and look to see who has inspired us over the course of the past 12 months, I would suggest to you that there is no need to look too far or to create false idols. There is no need to canonize those who are not deserving. And, although this may be just my personal opinion, when we start idolizing those individuals who have chosen not to live, but rather destroy themselves, we fail to provide positive role models for the future. Yes, heroes do exist; they walk amongst us in very small packages, never trying to be heroes. They simply just are.
Author: Jonathan Agin