Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy.


Let it be said with brutal frankness: The twenty-first century is in search of heroes and heroines—the kind of heroism that can only come from those who know the meaning of human care and concern. And this business of searching is serious as it defines the essence of the future—of the kind of future that we owe to the coming generations.

The twenty-first century is in dire need of that heroism that can only come from people who have taken upon themselves the moral duty to look at the world with kind eyes, with kind heart, with kind soul.

Because it is only in this kindness that we can ever see what the past centuries were.

Because it is only in this kindness that we can unlearn the knowledge that we should not have known in the first place—that knowledge that has taught us how to write ‘finish’ to all the good that we ought to nurture, to all the beautiful that we ought to nourish, to all the truth that we ought to promote and preserve and protect.

The twenty-first century needs a reasonable because resolute act of redemption—an act meant to redeem us from all that which leads us to wastage, to perdition, to uselessness, to meaningless, to ennui—because it is only through this act that we get to see what the future holds for us. And we need them—all the heroes, all the heroines. We need their presence. We need their deed. We need their examples. We need their trailblazing boldness and daring, their boldness a bonus to life’s superlotto, their daring the very core of a life we can call graced and blessed by the spirit of the universe. We need their action that can only spell heroism and no less.

And this is where the tragedy begins, the tragedy that is linked up with the hero, the tragedy that is linked up with the heroine, the tragedy that is linked up with heroism. It is that tragedy that is a necessary ingredient to the vocation—that sacred calling—to heroism. Many are called to this vocation, true. But very few are chosen—and they are heroes, they are the heroines.

For heroism is tragic any which way you look at it: all heroic deeds are never of compromises but one of commitment, conviction, compassion—deeds all that do not accept more, deeds all that do not accept less. There is no more-or-less in heroism; there is no approximation; and there is no trial and error. Either an act is heroic or not at all. The hero or the heroine is never in-between, never non-committal, never ambivalent.

Because the hero does what he ought to do as in the old times—in the times when he was endowed with the extraordinary gift of divining what is best under a set of circumstances. The hero knows the trade-off in human choice—and with that courage that only he knows, chooses to choose. And he chooses to stand by that choice.

Because the heroine does what she is ordained, knowing full well that if she would not do it, nobody will—and if she did not do it at the right time, no other right time will be had. She knows of the fickle nature of time, the terrorizing power of moments. And the heroine cannot afford to stand and watch—to stand and watch from the sidelines but instead must act and act soon—and fast. Tempus fugit, she says to remind herself of the terrorizing and tormenting power of time, and she seizes time, she seizes the moment, she puts time in the hollow of her hand and she makes that sacred. By her commitment to the deed that is good, she makes that time sanctified. And a miracle springs from there, the miracle of seeing the universe glow, the miracle of seeing humanity sparkle again and again until, like the ripples in a vast blue see subdued by waves after waves of cool water walling the swimmer from the temptations of drowning, the force of the waves making him afloat, carrying him through in that dark night of aloneness, solitude, dear, disappointments, frustration.

Because the hero is there—because the heroine is there—in those waves, calming the swimmer of life, calming the seas of life, pacifying all that which causes the storm to come and wreak havoc in the mind, in the sinews of memory, in the strength that should indwell in the memory that reminds the hero or the heroine of their sworn duty to make a difference so that this world would become a better place to live in, so that in this life, some salvation may come true.

Because the hero and the heroine and their heroism pulse with the spirit of life, as in the ancient times, the times when life was at its primordial, primeval, pristine state, when the corruption of the soul had yet to find residence in the history of mankind. The lessons of the past tell us exactly what kind of a hero are we in search of: the man who is the son of god, the man who is a son of the universe, the woman who is a daughter of all that which is good in life, the woman whose gifts are extraordinary because they are outstandingly ordinary as hers is a gift of self, a gift of life, a gift of a chance to give life to others. This is extraordinary: the everyday lived life offered as an oblation to the next person, the neighbor, to the stranger, to anyone in need of that sacred offering. And this ordinary act has a name—and its name is difficulty: it is not easy offering yourself to others because it is not easy offering yourself to yourself as well.

We go back to the hero of the past: he can be a son of god; she can be the daughter of parents, one a god, the other a man. But this is not the point—because these accidents of birth are accidents of birth and nothing more. These accidents do not privilege the hero; they do not give extra credits to the heroine. What forms them—the hero and the heroine—is the strength of character in them, the admirable quality in the face of trying circumstances, the courage that knows no other description except courage itself. This is why the hero has to be invented in movies; this is why the heroine has to be reinvented in social and human dramas, in epics, in novels, in stories. The hero and the heroine and their heroism are a staple of these human forms of expression because they make up what ‘life story’ is—the story that narrates of the trials and tribulations the hero and the heroine go through, the test of character that they must undergo, the hurdles that they must overcome, triumphing over odds, against all odds, against the vagaries and vicissitudes of life, society, and the universe, seeing as seeing does that in all these are the pot of gold one can possess in the end, the pot of gold the symbol of that which we all dream of, what we want to see at the end of the day after laboring hard, after having given our best. That pot gold is the reward—it is its own reward.

The tragic in heroism is that heroism cannot be without tragedy. This has been the irony for all times, in all times, and now more so with the twenty-first century with all its troubles, issues, problems, conflicts, concerns, contradictions. Somewhere we need a catalyst, one who can synthesize all these, one who can bundle them up and draw up from all these something good, something true, something beautiful—in short, life-affirming.

This, to me, is the real meaning of heroism in the twenty-first century.

For heroism in the twenty-first century is nothing but that conviction to live life in earnest and to the full and it does not matter the citizenship and country and community for as long as there, wherever one is, life is held sacred, life is seen with its full magic, life remains the engine for all that is enchanting and magical because it is a giver of meaning.

For heroism in the twenty-first century is that ideal held dear by the everyday hero and the everyday heroine, the ideal that must be turned into something concrete as this ideal needs to be translated into everyday deeds, small deeds most of the time, small acts of courage and integrity and honor and self-respect many times. Heroism, thus, is nothing but extraordinary act to give witness to ‘ordinary’ everydayness, the welcoming gesture to the here-and-now that includes others.

For heroism in the twenty-first century is our vow to the present and the future—and our vow as well to the past—the vow that holds as committed to the life-giving spirit among us, in others, in the universe—and no less.

A Solver Agcaoili
UH Manoa
Dec 15/06

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