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Quiet Heroism

golden statue of Atlas
The Pillars of the Earth. - Image by Peter Kraayvanger from Pixabay

Right now we all face a rare opportunity. If Italy is a window to the future, the future is sobering. Riots have swept Italian prisons. Overwhelmed Italian hospitals have begun to set up beds in the halls, and doctors must make grim decisions about whom to put in ventilators, and whom not. Despite these difficult times—or rather because of them—we face a opportunity. We have the rare opportunity to witness who we are during a crisis. As someone once said: “Hard times don’t create heroes. It’s during hard times when the hero within us is revealed.” There are those around the world who are stepping up and answering the call. Each day, Italians take to their windows to sing the national anthem, play accordions on balconies and violins on rooftops. A hotel in Ireland is delivering free dinners to elderly people unable to get to a supermarket. And two girls in south London posted handwritten notes on neighbors’ doors with their phone numbers to see if they needed anything. In this rapidly changing world, where fear sublimates to desperation, desperation to anger, how will you react? Who will you become? America has created a thriving industry of films, TV shows, and books that depict heroism in apocalyptic times. From The Walking Dead to Battlestar Galactica (a personal favorite). We like to imagine that, in a real-world catastrophe, we would act like the heroes of these modern myths. But will we? Today we have the opportunity to find out. Whoever you are, whatever your skills, you have the chance to be of service. If you know a doctor on the front lines of the pandemic, or a supermarket worker tirelessly stocking shelves, or a truck driver hauling supplies—let them know they are doing heroic work. If you are one of these people yourself, I’m telling you now: you are doing heroic work. For those at home, you can put your shoulder to the digital wheel. Create online video hangouts with friends using Google, Facebook, or Zoom. Reach out regularly to those you know suffer from anxiety, loneliness, or depression. Take a page from those two little girls and post notes around your neighborhood with your telephone number. Find a mutual aid group in your area and see what others need, whether it’s childcare, home-cooked meals, or groceries. Leverage your platforms. Leverage your skills. At Ragtime Poetry Co. my co-founder Lecco Morris and I have begun a campaign to send-out free poems to anyone in need of hope, calm, or strength. (If you would like one, please let me know.) Today, more than most days, we have the opportunity to become the heroes we hope to see in the world. I’m not talking about brash and reckless acts. On the contrary, the vast majority of heroism is unsexy, involves no guns or nick-of-time rescues. The world depends on countless unknown and un-praised men and women doing countless unknown acts of good.  Today we have the opportunity to join the ranks of the quietly heroic. There is no single Atlas on whom the world depends, there are just millions and millions of regular people who together form the pillars on which our world stands.

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