The Heroism Vacuum

by Pari Noskin Taichert

Anna20nicole20smith204Is anyone else sick of the Anna Nicole Smith saga?

Parishiltonsuntzu_1Does Paris Hilton really deserve any of our mental space?

What’s happened to heroes in our culture? Can they only be found in fiction?

Where are the real-life ordinary people who face astounding odds, and prevail, because of innate goodness, strength and a sense of justice?

Okay, maybe I’m feeling grumpy. I’m not unhappy to be older, not really. But every year, on this date, I search for life models, for people to look up to.

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Right now, I’m not finding much to admire.

Of course there’s always fiction. Heroes aplenty grace the pages in our genre and others. If I were feeling nobler, I might write a post about them. That’d be the self-sacrificing thing to do.

Nah, not today. I want to whine.

You see, this is a real yearning, heartfelt and painful. I want to know — beyond a Pollyanna, pop culture optimism –that real living, talking, breathing heroes walk among us.

I know that certain professions lend themselves to selflessness — community service, law enforcement, medicine, education. If I were in a different mood, I’d be singing the praises of the everyday champions in our lives, of their great hearts and generosity.

But I want something different today. I’m looking for the inspirational oddball; one I can relate to as a regular person. My soul screams for examples of ordinary Joes and Josephines who become epic, who rise above the normal to the extraordinary, without thinking of the potential for a book deal or television movie.

For some reason, in the past, heroes were easier to spot. Two come to mind without effort. Both glimmered during the darkest moments of the Holocaust.

First there were the "righteous gentiles"– non-Jewish people who risked their lives to prevent even more deaths.

Excerpt_sidebar_02_1Couples like Chinue and Yukiko Sugihara sacrificed so much during those same years.

I want to know that these most-admirable people are still being born, that they exist in this crazy world.

These are the real-life heroes I crave to learn about now.

At lunch, a few days ago, a friend said that today’s heroes are working behind the scenes, secretly, just as those from WWII did. She might be right.

Maybe I’m not looking in the right places for these true stars of humanity.

Or, it’s possible I should just stop watching the news for a couple of months . . . The quiet selflessness of heroism often doesn’t lend itself to speedy soundbites or sexy visuals.

Maybe this kind of courage isn’t required in the world at the moment.

I don’t know.

However, on this last Monday in February, I want to hear about heroes —
if there are any toBirthdaycakes1_3 celebrate nowadays.
I want to grow up to be like them.

Do you know any? Are you willing to share their stories here?

That’d be the best birthday present of all. 

29 thoughts on “The Heroism Vacuum

  1. billie

    Happy birthday!! We’re close together – I’m the 29th so get to skip this year. 🙂

    Heroes – I tend to look more for the heroic moments in real life and write the heroes into my novels. There is one character in particular who means the world to me. I suspect I will always have some work-in-progress with him in it.

    There are many people I admire and respect, though.

    billie

    Reply
  2. Mike MacLean

    Happy birthday, Pari!

    Paris Hilton certainly DOES NOT deserve any of our mental space. I don’t wish her death, (because we’d have to hear about it for months). I do, however, wish she’d just disappear.

    I believe there are heroes out there, selflessly doing extraordinary things. Unfortunately, because they aren’t after the spotlight like the celebrity bottom feeders, we’ll never hear about them.

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  3. Guyot

    Here’s the thing…

    Like you said some professions lend themselves, well, so does tragedy. Would you even know of the Sugiharas if not for the Holocaust?

    No.

    So, to look for comparable heroes at this moment isn’t really fair. Go back to that September day in 2001 and you could fill your house and your yard with heroes. The kind you’re looking for.

    As to watching news… is there really news anymore? Seriously. Ever since the Gulf War – when the networks realized that news ratings mattered as much as primetime ratings, the news stopped.

    When CNN – once considered the Edward R. Murrow of television news – does eight consecutive hours on Anna Nicole… what are we to do?

    When scandal is more important than news, when I have an editor of a cycling publication tell me that the truth about Floyd Landis doesn’t matter, only the way the facts are presented, what are we to do?

    But the sad part is – they wouldn’t do it if people didn’t watch.

    Heroes in every day life… parents. If you’re a parent, you’re a hero. Unless you’re a bad parent. Then you’re just a dick.

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  4. Pari Noskin Taichert

    B.G.,Thank you. Yeah, Stephen Hawking is an astounding person — and has a sense of humor as evidenced by his appearance on “The Simpsons.”

    Billie,Happy early birthday, fellow Pisces.You know, I usually find heroes everywhere — and in those small moments. I just want stories of big moments today. Ya know?

    Mike,Thank you, too.And, the more I think about it, the more I have to believe the true heroes of today are only going to come to the fore tomorrow.

    Paul,Yeah, what you said; I warned you this post was a bit whiny.

    What’s weird about the news is that I know many people who work in the field and they’re so sincere and want to do a good job. But, the shift for information to entertainment is so pervasive, it’s stymying their efforts too.

    Even the stalwarts such as the BBC covered Anna Nicole Smith’s sad end and disposition.

    Yes, it’s people watching, but it’s also an assumption on the part of those purveying this crap that that’s what we want.

    I have the same complaint about the trend for “reality” television. Is it what people want or is it just so much easier and less expensive to produce that it’s simply given to us?

    Reply
  5. Guyot

    Generally, a “reality” show costs on average about 1/6th what a one-hour scripted drama costs to produce.

    Therefore, even if the ratings are say, only a third of fourth what the scripted show is, the network comes out ahead with the “reailty” show. And when the ratings beat the scripted dramas – which they have in a lot of cases – it’s a gold mine.

    I think eventually, all scripted programming will be pay-per-view – whether it’s downloading or cable or what. And the only free TV will be news, sports and reality.

    Reply
  6. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Oh, gee, Paul,Thanks for THAT thought.

    Actually, it might not be as bad as it sounds on the first time through. Maybe I’ll stop watching television once and for all . . .

    Re: newsI keep hoping there will be a backlash — that intelligent people will unite and scream: “Enough, already! We need news that helps us navigate the world, not this fluff.”

    Hey . . . let me dream.

    Reply
  7. Rae

    SNL did a pretty good job the other night of skewering CNN over its Anna Nicole Smith coverage. The analogy of ‘news’ media as vultures has never been more apt.

    And, agree with Paul about every day heroes. The people who keep doing what needs to be done, every day, whether or not they want to, in spite of the odds – those are the people I admire. I think of them as the ones who run in when everyone else is running out.

    (And, happy birthday, Pari 😉

    Reply
  8. Pari Noskin Taichert

    “I think of them as the ones who run in when everyone else is running out.”

    Beautiful, Rae. Thank you.

    Okay, EVERYONE, I want names . . . or stories; I know these people in the abstract; I want to *meet* them today.

    Reply
  9. Guyot

    “”I keep hoping there will be a backlash — that intelligent people will unite and scream: “Enough, already! We need news that helps us navigate the world, not this fluff.””

    Sadly, Pari, until the Nielsen people starting putting their boxes in ALL types of homes – and not stacking them in more, shall we say, “depressed” areas of the country, it ain’t gonna happen.

    What Nielsen does – by order of the mega-corps that own the networks – is skew the rating households to less affluent, less educated areas of the country. They do this because they believe it is easier to convince the “less educated” and/or “less financially stable” people to buy products based on ads than it is to convince “smarter people.”

    See, the companies that own the networks are the same companies that own the companies that are selling their producst on TV.

    Yes, it’s true.

    Reply
  10. Naomi

    I’m embarrassed to say that I did follow the Anna Nicole Smith story when it first broke. (Pari–this shouldn’t surprise you as you found an US Weekly in my bathroom!) I don’t know why I was so fascinated–maybe because there’s a surviving baby whose paternity is in question, the loss of her adult son a few months earlier, her case going to the Supreme Court, her ever-changing appearance and behavior. There’s mysteries upon mysteries here. But I admit, it’s getting very old now.

    I think that the exploitation of certain celebrity stories is nothing new. I don’t if it has to do with the alignment of the stars or whatever, but something just hits society at the right (or wrong) time and we go ga-ga over weird stuff.

    Regarding Sugihara, I met his son while I was working at the newspaper. S.J. Rozan and I, in fact, spoke about Sugihara over coffee during LCC Seattle. Her next Lydia Chin book is linked to WWII Shanghai, where a lot of Jews settled temporarily to escape the Holocaust. Apparently Sugihara’s visas led some of them to eventually seek refuge in Shanghai. Really interesting stuff. Can’t wait until that book is published, S.J.!

    And Pari, happy birthday!!! Go see the film, AMAZING GRACE, and learn about William Wilberforce. I had never heard of him before. A British hero, an international hero, for sure.

    Reply
  11. Alex Sokoloff

    Happy Birthday, Pari-san!!

    Thanks for the link to the Sugiharas – shockingly, I’d never even heard of them.

    I KNOW you want names, big names, but I really, truly believe that it’s the little kindnesses that we all can perform every day that make a heroic life. Just practicing kindness. We all hope to be a hero in that big situation when we’re tested, but if everyone honored the importance of the daily little good deeds, we wouldn’t need so many big ones to compensate.

    Reply
  12. Christa

    Happy Birthday Pari! Here’s the first person who sprang to my mind – Aaron Feuerstein, CEO of Malden Mills. You can read about his heroism here: http://www.opi-inc.com/malden.htm

    Heroes, in my opinion, are the people who put themselves out for others without needing or wanting anything in return. They might say it’s their job, but it really isn’t – they are just good people. 🙂

    Reply
  13. JT Ellison

    Happy Birthday, Pari!

    I’m having lunch today with one of my heroes. He’s a homicide detective — sharp, funny, and always willing to help a writer out. When I imagine what he does on a daily basis…

    Great post though. Hubby and I spent the week updating each other — Britney is back in rehab, and Anna Nicole is still dead. I’ve been watching this simply because I think there’s foul play involved, and my devious litle mind concocts all sorts of delicious plot lines. It’s a damn shame, either way.

    Reply
  14. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Paul,Re: NielsenThose networks are probably right. I wish that media literacy was a required course in every child’s education from kindergarten–that it was part of that stupid NCLB standards testing. Of course, a media literate society would be the bane of marketers everywhere. (I say this as someone who knows that profession well.)

    Naomi,Lois Ruby (http://www.loisruby.com) has written a YA book called SHANGHAI SHADOWS about this same subject. She lives in NM and is a wonderful writer and person. I’m really glad that SJ will be tackling the general topic; I’m sure it will be magnificent.

    Alex,Thank you for the last sentence in your comment. It’s useful for reframing this feelign of lack. You’re absolutely right about it, too. At every step of most major tragedies (other than natural disasters such as earthquakes), there’s opportunity to avert them.

    Elaine,Yes. Yes. Yes.

    Reply
  15. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Christa,What a wonderful example of a hero. Wow. Sure, his decision made good business sense, but that doesn’t diminish the courage to put his employees first. The story made me feel good ALL over.

    J.T.,I’ve got a similar hero here in Alb. He’s also a homicide detective — retired — but at this point in his career, he’s doing alot more training across the country.

    Re: Anna NSI watched the drama for awhile. I think what really turned me off was the farce in the courtroom and how it went on as long as it did.

    But, yeah, the writer in me has about ten explanations for what might have happened to her . . .

    And, all I can think is, “Her poor daughter.”

    Reply
  16. Guyot

    To lighten things up…

    It’s Pari’s birthday celebration!

    Pari, if you could choose your birthday gifts, what would you pick for each of the following:

    1 – A signed first edition of any book

    2 – A book you’ve never read

    3 – A private screening of any movie from history. What movie and who do you invite?

    4 – A dinner at what restaurant, and with what three writers (living or dead)?

    5 – A $2500 shopping spree at what store, and what do you buy (stay within budget)?

    Reply
  17. louiseure

    Man, I was getting depressed just reading the post and the comments. Until I spotted Guyot’s questions.

    So, for today, I’ll keep my heroes list small and personal. I’ll ignore my daily ranting about media and political incompetence. I’ll forget that America used to be a place I was proud of, with high-minded people who cared about others and were capable of accomplishing anything.

    Today, I’m thinking about a signed first edition. And the best meal I’ve ever had. And that $2500 shopping spree.

    Happy Birthday, Pari!

    Reply
  18. Rae

    OK, Pari, since it’s your birthday, here’s a story (Hopefully it’s not too depressing 😉

    My stepfather was the bravest person I ever knew. He was a Marine on Iwo Jima in WWII, was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and got half his face blown off by a grenade. His buddies didn’t survive. Reconstructive surgery was not what it is now, and the physicians were more interested in saving his life than in saving his good looks (and he was a handsome man), so he came out of it looking a little different than most of us. But he didn’t let that stop him. He still had one eye, and most of his hearing, so he just kept going. Then, one day when his older son was in eighth grade, his vision went cloudy. A bit of shrapnel that had been missed in surgery had damaged an optic nerve. He was, officially, blind. But he didn’t let that stop him. He just kept moving forward, through a difficult divorce, a difficult second marriage, some pretty tough family issues.

    Given the first 60 or so years of his life, no one would have blamed my step-dad if he had just curled up in his shell and let people take care of him. But, no way. He kept moving forward. He was active in his community, he volunteered, he participated; his letters to the editor of the local paper were the stuff of legend. In his neighborhood, his home was the center of all the activity. It was party central.

    George could have taken the easy way. He could have whined and complained, or acted the martyr. But he didn’t. If he had dark moments, and I’ll bet he did, he kept them to himself; the face he presented to the world invariably had a smile on it. Even now, three years after his death, whenever we all get together, we raise our glasses to him.

    To me, he was the definition of a hero.

    Reply
  19. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Okay, Paul . . . let’s see

    1 – A signed first edition of any bookOh, this is difficult. I think if I had to pick only one, I’d go for Mark Twain’s INNOCENTS ABROAD. I read that book while living in France and just adored it.

    2 – A book you’ve never readHell, I’ve read most of the books I’ve wanted to read . . . um . . . maybe LIVING TO TELL THE TALE — by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

    4 – A dinner at what restaurant, and with what three writers (living or dead)?I’d like to try Kurt Russell’s wife’s restaurant Cafe Zuni in San Francisco . . . it sounds like a wonderful place.As to three writers — this is weird but I’d really like to chat with Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Mark Twain before he became bitter. I just that would be a hell of a great conversation though I might worry I couldn’t keep up with them.

    I’ll have to think about #s 3 and 5 a bit more.

    Thanks for the fun task.

    Reply
  20. Tom, T.O.

    Happy Birthday!

    Two weeks ago one of the night custodians here at the L.A. Caltrans District 7 building, Mr. Robert Mix, found $700 in cash in one of the staff cubicles. He turned it in to Security, and the money was returned to its owner. I think that qualifies as heroic.

    I wish to state categorically that I AM NOT the father of Anna Nicole’s baby.

    I absolutely LOVE and am grateful for reality TV–haven’t been able to read so much since college!

    Reply
  21. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Tom,Heh heh heh. Wonderful story about Mr. Robert Mix. Wonderful comments about reality tv. Reframes it very nicely for me, merci.

    Okay, here’s my answer to #5

    I’d like to take that money and spend it on transportation for me and my family (sorry, Elaine) to Antibes where we could go to the farmers’ market and buy strawberries that had been picked that very morning. Yeah, that’d be nice.

    And, #3How about “Shaun of the Dead” with the ‘Rati crew? I’m in the mood for some fun.

    Reply
  22. Elaine Flinn

    Damn, but I just KNEW you were gonna do that. Ah, but Paul said what STORE – can’t buy a trip to Antibes there! Gotcha. 🙂

    And a travel agent’s office ain’t a store – so try again. 🙂

    Reply
  23. Pari Noskin Taichert

    The problem is that I don’t really covet anything. I’ve got all I need.

    I might want a couple of nice unguents from Crabtree & Evelyn or some smoked fish from Whole Foods . . . but I’m not sure I COULD spend $2500 in one place without buying for other people, too. Ya know?

    The things I really want are the time and money to go to a writer’s retreat where I wouldn’t have to worry about anything but writing for a week or a month. Or, an extended spa stay. Or, a series of several massages for a year. That kind of thing. All of those involve time, scheduling and money . . .

    So, I’m kind of stumped. I certainly don’t crave clothes, jewelry, appliances, books (if I bought $2500 worth, I’d feel guilty for not reading them quickly enough) . . . etc etc.

    Reply
  24. Jeff Cohen

    Happy (somewhat belated) birthday, Pari! I have a certain bias here, but yesterday, my son, who as anyone who has ever come within a mile of me knows, has Asperger’s Syndrome, became my hero. With a neurological condition (a form of autism) that makes it difficult for him to connect with people, difficult to multi-task and difficult to do pretty much ANYTHING that hasn’t been carefully prepared ahead of time, he managed to pass his road test and become a licensed driver. Because he decided it was important that he do that. So at least today, he’s my hero.

    Reply

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