A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Unsung Heroes

Bill Farrelly

by Bill Farrelly

HAVE you ever wanted to be a hero?

I have. Who am I kidding; I still do. I want to do extraordinary things. I used to want to save the world. (And I sympathise with the humorists among you who add - “from people like Bill!”) And, despite the promises I make to myself, it would be a safe bet to say that I’ll go on wanting to be a hero. But maybe, just maybe, as the result of a recent ‘epiphany’, I’ll be able to rein in my galloping imagination.

For it occurred to me a few months ago that I can be a hero whenever I choose.

Life would be terrible without heroes. It might be not even worth living. I cannot imagine a life without Jesus Christ. I may have mentioned this before but I often feel sorry for those who lived BC.

We all daydream and it would be a safe bet that, among males anyway, we often picture ourselves performing miraculous feats. It would be an interesting study to look at the origin of this desire.

Wild at heartIs it simply a hangover from the days when we fought one another in the survival of the fittest? Or is it, as John Eldredge, the author of Wild at Heart, writes, an innate, God-given desire. I was sceptical when I first came upon that claim but, having recently read the book, I cannot commend it you you highly enough.

Back to the point I was making: we can all be heroes every day if we choose. Collectively, we can even save the world.

All that is required is love of our fellow man.

Yes, I am making it sound so simple and, you are right: it is not simple. To love when you don’t want to is the hardest thing in the world. It is easier to go to war – be it with your spouse, your neighbour, another nation – than to do what is necessary to make peace.

Isn’t that an incredibly sad truth.

Three and a half years ago I achieved hero status in the eyes of the person I loved most – the person for whom I most longed to be a hero. But that goal was achieved at a terrible price, the end, for now at least, of what was to have been a life-long relationship.

The tragedy is that, had I not been so focused on my obsession to be ‘extraordinary’, I might not have lost what I treasure most. Had I seen then, as I do now, that it is in doing the ordinary things well that we can be extraordinary, I would not be struggling against this awful separation.

By grace I have changed mightily. I listen, I learn and I listen again.

Thank God, it is an ill wind etc etc. Unlike in my youth, I learn quickly now. By grace I have changed mightily. I listen, I learn and I listen again.

But I stumble, too, and sometimes it feels as if I will never learn from my mistakes. And sometimes I am very good at giving advice but not practising what I preach.

I recently worked  in a situation that required great tolerance – for much of my life, not one of my strong suits. I was working among people who seem to have no sense of direction and no desire to improve their situation. They seemed to be totally without motivation. I had promised myself that I would not be judgemental but despite my best efforts I failed and  my frustration rose to the surface. So much so that I was tempted to pack up and walk away. I didn’t because I had made a commitment.

Come to think of it, that’s kind of heroic, isn’t it? Keeping a commitment, I mean, when the going gets tough. I suppose the tougher it is, the more heroic the effort required. But I didn’t feel heroic, I just felt tired and frustrated and I wondered where my life was headed.

By chance I have seen several documentaries lately all featuring people who in some way or another have made a difference to the lives of others. In their various ways they are heroes. What it boils down to, I think, is that they have used the talents God gave them. We all have them but we don’t all use them. Or, as in my own case for much of the early part of my life, we envy the talents of others while being too stupid or lazy to examine, nurture and exploit our own.

Perhaps that’s what heroism really is: facing up to our limitations and at the same time digging for the gold that is within each of us and putting it to good use. That, and loving one another when hating would be so much easier.

Well, that’ll do now and, besides, there’s a phone box just up the road and I’ve got to change into my Superman suit. Talk to you later.

PS. Thanks for listening, and a very happy and holy Christmas.

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