“Heroes are more than just stories, they’re people. And people are complicated; people are strange. Nobody is a hero through and through, there’s always something in them that’ll turn sour… you’ll learn it one day. There are no heroes, only villains who win.” ― Joel Cornah in The Sea-Stone Sword
Melvin Gaa never thought of himself as a hero when he was still alive. But Davao media called him as such when it was learned that he was able to help bring down the 83 surviving employees of SSI and an estimated 700 personnel of the New City Commercial Center (NCCC) Mall which was engulfed by fire two days before Christmas last year.
“Melvin had already brought down several Survey Sampling International (SSI) employees and was already seen having safely existed from the building at the ground floor. But instead of remaining downstairs, he went upstairs again to try to save more people,” said Thea Padua, NCCC Mall spokesperson.
But the member of the NCCC Emergency Action Team failed this time. When the fire ended the following day, Melvin was one of the 37 dead bodies recovered by the Bureau of Fire Protection personnel near the lobby of the SSI office on the mall’s fourth floor.
“Is there a possibility he tried (to rescue some of the trapped people)?” Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio asked during the press conference. “I think, yes, from the location he was found, maybe he went upstairs because everybody is asking for help, that is my opinion.”
“I am not a hero,” Miep Gies was quoted as saying by “The New York Times.” “I just did what any decent person would have done.”
It was the beginning of World War II. Gies, who was a Christian, worked as a secretary in the food chemicals business owned by Otto Frank, who happened to be a Jew. To escape the Nazis, Frank, his family, and four other Jews moved into a secret apartment above the business. Gies was one of five people aware of their hideout and took food to them daily.
“The New York Times” recounted: “After the Jews were discovered and taken away to concentration camps on August 4, 1944, Gies defied Nazi orders to stay out of the no-longer-secret apartment. There she found strewn across the floor the handwritten diary pages of Frank’s younger daughter, Anne. At great personal risk, she retrieved and kept them.
“After learning that Anne had died in Bergen-Belsen, Gies gave her diary to Otto Frank, the only member of the family who survived the camps. Otto arranged for its publication in 1947, and ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ became an extraordinarily poignant and important document of Nazi oppression.”
“What’s a hero?” asked flight attendant Uli Derickson in the March 1994 issue of ‘People’ magazine. “I didn’t even think about it.”
Working on TWA Flight 847 from Athens to Rome, which was hijacked for seventeen days by Lebanese terrorists in 1985, she persuaded the hijackers to spare the lives of all but one person on board and maintained calm throughout the ordeal. Rejecting the “hero” label, she insisted that she was only doing her job.
No one aspires to be a hero. But anyone can be a hero. “A man can be a hero if he is a scientist, or a soldier, or a drug addict, or a disc jockey, or a crummy mediocre politician,” says American feminist critic Andrea Dworkin. “A man can be a hero because he suffers and despairs; or because he thinks logically and analytically; or because he is ‘sensitive;’ or because he is cruel.
“Wealth establishes a man as a hero, and so does poverty,” Dworkin further said. “Virtually any circumstance in a man’s life will make him a hero to some group of people and has a mythic rendering in the culture—in literature, art, theater, or the daily newspapers.”
In “Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War,” Mary Roach wrote: “Heroism doesn’t always happen in a burst of glory. Sometimes small triumphs and large hearts change the course of history. Sometimes a chicken can save a man’s life.”
“I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom,” commented American singer Bob Dylan, who recently received the Nobel Prize for Literature.
“A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer,” noted Ralph Waldo Emerson. But definitely, to quote the words of John Barth, “Everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story.”
Indeed, it is very hard to define what a hero is. Suzy Kassem, in “Rise Up and Salute the Sun,” wrote: “This is where people misunderstand war. When you attack another country for its resources, you are the pirate. But when you protect your country from the pirates, you are the hero.”
In movies, heroes abound. In fact, there are super heroes (Superman, Spiderman and Captain Barbel to name a few) and super heroines (like Darna and Wonder Woman). Again, how can you become a hero or heroine?
“It does not take a great supernatural heroine or magical hero to save the world. We all save it every day, and we all destroy it – in our own small ways – by every choice we make and every tiniest action resulting from that choice,” Vera Nazarian pointed out.
“The next time you feel useless and impotent, remember what you are in fact doing in this very moment. And then observe your tiny, seemingly meaningless acts and choices coalesce and cascade together into a powerful positive whole. The world — if it could — will thank you for it. And if it does not… well, a true heroine or hero does not require it,” she wrote.
There are no heroes, if there are no villains. Your boss, for instance, can either be a hero or a villain. It depends upon which perspective you see him. If he develops you to be like him in the future, then he can be your hero but if he keeps belittling in front of visitors and subordinates, then the boss can be your villain.
How does a hero differ from a villain? When screenwriter Ben Hecht arrived in Hollywood for the first time, his fellow screenwriter Herbert Mankiewicz told this secret: “In a novel, a hero can lay ten girls and marry a virgin for a finish. In a movie, this is not allowed. The hero, as well as the heroine, has to be a virgin. The villain can lay anybody he wants, have as much fun as he wants cheating and stealing, getting rich and whipping the servants. But you have to shoot him in the end.”
That’s why everyone wants to be identified with the hero. “The thing about a hero,” said Joss Whedon, “is even when it doesn’t look like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, he’s going to keep digging, he’s going to keep trying to do right and make up for what’s gone before, just because that’s who he is.”