“Oh, we can be heroes, just for one day” – David Bowie
It’s not every day that we get to feel like a hero.
Part of that is opportunity – many people go many days, years, or even decades without an opportunity to be a hero. Of course, some people have the opportunity every single day (police, fire, doctors)… but, per the nature of heroics, we often take what they do for granted.
Of course, there is also the definition of hero – a person admired for courage or noble qualities. Courage requires action – stepping into the breach. I wonder how many more heroes we could have if men and women today would take action…
I include myself in this discussion. I’m no hero. Not by a long shot. But there have been brief, fleeting moments in my life when I felt like I had acted with courage, seizing the opportunity to change the direction of the event at hand.
One such time was in the summer of 2008. It was an absolute treasure of a day in the South Side of Chicago, made all the better by a White Sox victory over the crosstown Cubs. Unless you are from the South Side of Chicago (which I am), you have no understanding of the hatred one fanbase can have for another. I contend that even Red Sox fans don’t hate the Yankees as much. There’s only so much snobbery you can take from the yuppy fans sipping their beers, happy to be watching their team lose simply because there is ivy on the walls of their stadium… grrr… Lovable losers my…. GRRR!!!
You have to understand the hatred of Sox fans towards Cubs fans to understand the electric atmosphere of the crowd that day. Over 50,000 people cheering for their side of Chicago to emerge victorious. It was a close, back and forth game, the tension soaring. There seemed as many brawls as there were innings, as fans sought to pour their own aggression into the contest. Finally, the last out was recorded, and the crowd sang “Sweet Home, Chicago” as it poured into the streets of the south side.
Our group headed to the car, and we basked in the glorious June sun, smug with victory. We were not alone in this feeling, and tensions did not melt away as people left for home. Up ahead, people were shouting, cursing, and a car horn blared. Usual post game theatrics… until it wasn’t. A large, twenty-something man started yelling directly into the window of a SUV about five cars ahead of where we were walking. Suddenly, he started throwing punches into the car. Then, he pulled the door open and continued his assault. He was methodically destroying whoever was in the car, arm pumping like a piston as his fist continued to connect with the unlucky driver. His girlfriend jumped on his back, trying to stop him, but he simply reached back and pushed her away, his hand leaving a streak of blood on her white shirt.
At this point, the crowd surged forward to see what was happening. A look inside the SUV revealed a broken man appearing to be at least sixty. The bridge of his nose had collapsed, blood welling forth from the snapped cartilage. It appeared as if he had a goatee, except it was pure crimson running from his mouth. Whatever had happened, this man had paid the price.
Of course, a mob loves a fight. By this time, the crowd had swelled, and the bull was looking to continue his assault. I feel particularly qualified to describe him this way (as you’ll see later), and I assure you – this was a serious young bovine. He a bit over six foot and easily 220 of solid muscle – arms smeared with blood and ink and sweat. His shaved head merely lacked horns as he snorted and stomped and waited for the mob to choose a champion.
The mob chose a likely combatant – another youngin’, even larger, but visibly less at ease with the thought of the violence that awaited him. Oh, he yelled and postured and threatened Master Bull, but he always did so as he was stepping backward, staying near the edge of the circle that had formed around the fighting grounds. He took heart from the crowd, which had turned rabid for more violence and blood, but he was not going to step forward and fight. In fact, he was secretly hoping that the fight didn’t come to him (anyone who has been around fights knows exactly what I’m talking about – there are people who WANT to fight, and people who want to appear tough – he was the latter).
Unfortunately, Master Bull WANTED to fight. He surged forward, firing his meaty fist at the other fellow, and hoping to deliver more pain. Unfortunately, his fist never made it there. Why? At that moment, a young woman had decided to try to sneak through the crowd and get to her car, and she walked directly between the men. The fist didn’t make it to the other young man because it landed flush on the side of her head. It took less than a second for her to hit the ground.
There’s something about seeing a lady get hit in the face that demands action. At this point, the Bull was directly in front of me, with his back turned to me. I immediately jumped forward and wrapped my arms over his and pulled him backwards towards my knee, attempting to leverage him into inaction. And this is where I can say with conviction that he was a bull of a man. He started bucking and tossing me around on his back as if we were at a rodeo. I’m not a small man. I would venture to guess that I outweighed him by at least 15-20 pounds, but he was tossing me around like a ragdoll. I grabbed him intending to stop the nonsense, but I hung on for dear life. My feet left the ground multiple times as he attempted to free himself, and my hold began to slip as he thrashed around. Finally, my grip gave way as I slipped off his back. He started to turn, fist cocked, ready to add me to the nameless rabble of victims. As he turned, a cop slammed into his side… the cavalry arrived just in time.
The crowd immediately began to drift away, excitement quenched by the arrival of law and order. The broken man from the SUV and the groggy gal explained their story as Bull man’s girlfriend screamed that it was everyone’s fault but her man’s. The cop gave me a nod, but never even asked me a question. My cousin examined the White Sox jersey I had borrowed from him and announced it free from blood. It was like the moment had never even happened. Yet, adrenaline still coursed through my veins, and even then I wondered: Was I a hero?
I don’t know if I was. I didn’t prevent the breaking of the old man. I didn’t stop the girl from getting knocked out. But I did jump in, successfully stopping a madman in the throes of hurting everyone in his path. I held on with all my might until his rampage was over, and prevented anyone else from getting hurt. I stepped forward when no one else had, and I can assure you I was in harm’s way… but is it the stuff of heroes?
Even today, I don’t know for sure. But in that moment, I can tell you that I felt like one. No one was there to congratulate me or thank me, and I didn’t receive an award for bravery. However, I think that makes me feel all the more heroic. It’s the nameless acts of courage and bravery that define the countless heroes around the world each and every day. I mentioned earlier that there aren’t opportunities all that often, but I take it back now – every single day we have a chance to be a hero.
It is the thankless yet difficult acts of love and courage that truly define the people that should be heroes, and those heroes make choices to step forward and be counted.
I want to be a hero.