Interfaith Connections is a column for teens to dialogue about how their faith or wisdom tradition influences their view of life’s big questions. In each issue, three teens from different backgrounds respond to a question posed by the Editorial Board, based on the theme. This quarter the Ed Board asks:
What does your faith or wisdom tradition teach you about heroism?
Susanna Olson responds.
As a Christian, God is my biggest hero. When people ask me what a hero is, I must refer them to the one in whom I believe. Since I have been brought up in a Christian family, I have been taught about Jesus since I was a little girl. Moreover, I have heard the things he said and the stories that he told: a good Samaritan’s selfless care for his enemy, a man nourishing a thirsty sinner, a shepherd seeking out the one lost sheep. To me these stories express a person who is perfect, who is selfless, and who is the truest hero.
When children, lepers, or disabled ones came to Jesus, his disciples often urged him not to worry about them, but he said “Let them come to me.” He cared for everyone he met, regardless of their importance or rank. He went out of his way to save a woman who was thirsty. She had five husbands and was with another man that she was not married to. Other people condemned her, but Jesus recognized that she was sick, desperately in need of satisfaction and enjoyment. Every fountain of pleasure that she tried had run dry. Instead of condemning, he told her that he had what she needed. She could find in him satisfaction and rest. He had a fountain that would never run dry. Throughout his life Jesus touched people, not condemning but saving. He was love, and love prevailed in every interaction he had with others.
As I grow older and begin to experience Christ in a personal way, those stories have become more and more real to me. I believe a hero can do the most help by imparting the spirit of the truest hero, through simple human virtues that express something divine. To me, heroes are normal people who live their life in oneness with God.
I believe heroes are selfless. They care more about others then they care about themselves. Heroes are those who will do what they know is right, regardless of the consequences. Heroes save because life is precious. When helping others, they do not differentiate between friend, family, and stranger. They value others’ lives and a purpose for the universe before their own personal image, comfort, or even existence. Their acts are not always rational. Their acts are not always logical. Their acts are not always scientific. Their acts are always genuine.
Countless people in what you might call my “religious community” are heroes to me. One elderly gentleman speaks up for his God, even though he always stutters and occasionally freezes from nervousness. A girl who has been through more pain and suffering then some people experience in a lifetime, yet she is only in junior high. Her smile stretches wide whenever speaking of her Beloved Lord. An “elder,” always taking care of the young ones under his care. He sympathizes with our miniscule struggles, speaks in a way we can understand, yet never talks down to us.
There is one person in particular who stands out to me. I call her “Aunt Karen.” She loves to cook. More than cooking, though, she loves to feed. She feeds everyone who comes to her door, which can be a lot of people since she lives near a college campus and students often stop in for a free meal. She helps everyone, not because she has been perfectly stationed to facilitate being a benefactor to many others, but simply because she cares.
If you met Aunt Karen you might think she had everything and was handing off bits of her happiness to others like a wealthy philanthropist. Between her long laughs, the delicious smells of food always cooking, and never-locked door, you might never hear of the unimaginable tragedies that mark her life. You’d probably never guess that her first and only daughter died as an infant. From the full house and gracious generosity, how could you surmise that there is never quite enough money to pay the bills and that she has to work two jobs to get by?
I have always admired Aunt Karen. One time when I was staying with her, I offered to set the table for supper. When I asked how many plates we would need, she replied that she didn’t know. In that moment, I realized that she never knew. People feel comfortable coming to her whenever they need to, because they know she cares. A homeless woman was given a place to live. A tired college student was given a cup of tea and a long talk. An excited traveler came to Aunt Karen first, knowing that she could find a companion with whom she could share all her adventures. The door to Aunt Karen’s house is large, glass, and always unlocked, a perfect picture of her heart.
I always admired Aunt Karen, but I didn’t know that she was a hero, not until a tragic construction accident left her husband bleeding, brain damaged, and barely alive. She didn’t give up. She nursed her husband through every stage of recovery. Doctors weren’t sure if he would survive, yet through her tender care he has come far. She researches new treatments, changes his diapers, and works daily on teaching him how to speak, eat, and talk. Her husband was left with the brain capacity of a toddler, yet she still loves him unconditionally. Not only that, but when I visit them I still don’t know how many plates to set at the dinner table. Even through horrid tragedy she never stopped caring for other people. She still houses a woman who can’t find a home, she still leaves her door unlocked, and she still cooks an extra-large portion of food for anyone who might stop in. I know it must be hard for her, I can only imagine that behind closed doors she must sometimes despair. But I never see that on her face. I see her joking, cooking, and remaining positive. I’ve never heard her complain.
Sometimes it seems unbelievable, with everything that she has gone through, that she could continue to work so tirelessly for others. How could she keep loving — her husband, her college students, her life? I know what her answer would be, because I’ve heard exactly where her strength comes from: God. She has a hope, a joy, and a goal that is far beyond earthly sufferings. If you marveled at her, I know she would only praise the one who has been her comfort and strength through every trial.
The hero I appreciate the most is the one who helps me turn away from my silly cares and turn to what really matters in life. They save the core, the essence — they know what is most important and fight for it. These kinds of people push and motivate others to move on and grow.
Often people desire to be better and worry endlessly about “doing good.” However being a hero is more than merely stopping to be nice for the sake of it, or making sure you fulfill your weekly quota of virtue. What kind of life do you live? Not simply when you are dropping your extra-large boxes of food off at the homeless shelter, but as you plod through every day, what do you express? The truest acts of heroism aren’t for bare minimum conscience requirements or extra points on your resume. The truest acts of heroism are manifestations of a lifestyle that is something beyond our human selfishness.
Each one of my heroes is different, some in almost every way imaginable. Yet within their individual characters they each express the one true hero: Christ Jesus. By expressing him in their individual uniqueness, they are his fullness. Since I believe that this is what we were all made for, this pattern encourages me in my pursuit of this wonderfully mystical yet perfectly normal process. They are each my heroes — an expression of my one truest hero.