We Can Be Heroes
sure love our big popcorn stories about heroes. Just consider our
decades-long love affair with Batman—and the astounding box-office
receipts for his latest filmic chapter, The Dark Knight Rises.
course, that chapter was forever complicated when James Holmes crashed
an Aurora, Colorado, movie theatre, opened fire, and left twelve people
dead. And then there was Wade M. Page, the white supremacist who killed
six at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin two weeks later.
something horrific and the world will take notice. Do something nice...
not so much. Our everyday saviors—first responders, teachers, nurses,
public servants—may get some recognition, but few among them become as
“big” as Page or the would-be Joker, Holmes. To the most notorious goes
the most notoriety.
Bruce Wayne, by contrast, would prefer to be invisible. He’d rather not
even be Batman! But someone has to, he reckons, so he rises to the
occasion again and again, even though it would be far easier to revel in
his immense fortune and try to ignore the world’s suffering. And
therein lies much of his appeal, an accumulated cultural resonance so
deep it can even feel a bit personal (it does to me). Why? Because
Batman fans of all ages, even the most casual ones, know that he’s not
just a stuffed shirt and a cape. He’s principled. A protector. Committed
to fairness. And, he’s nobody’s fool. We don’t merely admire him; we
want to be like him. We wish we had it in us to be heroes.
thing is, we do have it in us. But like Bruce Wayne, we’ll probably do
best if we put down the desire for recognition. We’ve got everything we
need anyway, immense fortune or not.
get started, we can take a commitment known as the bodhisattva or
warrior’s vow, in which we declare our intention to put aside
self-centered concerns and begin to prioritize others. There are even
three ways to do it, as Pema Chödrön explains in “a greater
happiness,” her teaching in this issue. After all, it takes all kinds,
and the Buddhist path accounts for that. It offers a way to approach
practice that’s appropriate to whoever we may be, to wherever we are in
life. Will you enter the path, to use Pema’s phraseology, like a
“monarch,” a “ferryman,” or a “shepherdess”? Only you can know that.
(Think of it as your secret identity!) The important thing is that
whichever way you go, as long as you’re sincere, you can’t go wrong.
sometimes, as with Sully Sullenberger—the real-life hero pilot Pema
talks about in her piece—or even Pema herself, the world will sit up and
wait. There is one thing you’ll need: your breath. It’s key to your
mindfulness practice, the starting point of the bodhisattva’s path, and
without it you won’t be able to do the helpful tonglen meditation Pema
teaches in “You Can Do It.” But really, that’s it. A bodhisattva’s
utility belt may not feature grappling hooks and other cool gizmos, but
it’s light as a feather. Or a breath. And you’ll find it packs a lot of
power, too, helping you pause, assess a given situation, and then do
what’s called for—even if all that’s called for is to be present and
bear witness to the suffering and needs of those around you.
we open ourselves in this way, responding to the real people and
possibilities in our lives with warmth and fairness, everything follows
suit: life’s joys become more meaningful. We even start to see that its
difficulties have meaning, too. Like a caped crusader standing on a
skyscraper’s gargoyle over some teeming metropolis, we’ve gained a more
panoramic perspective. And a true hero’s humility and loving heart.
—Rod Meade Sperry, associate editor