Deborah Jackson

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Ordinary Hero—Far more to admire than the celebrity.

In light of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I think it’s time to consider the ordinary hero once again and pay tribute. We spend so much time creating heroes for our fictional projects, sometimes never realizing that we may see these extraordinary qualities every day and need not look to fiction.

The fire fighter, the policeman, the nurse, the neighbour next door—they do exceptional things on a daily basis and are often never given credit. Credit goes to the sports figure, the movie star, the author for simply having talent and working hard to rise into the spotlight, but how often do these figures put their lives on the line or rescue someone from certain death?

One day my son came home from school and told me he had to do a project on “heroes.”

“Whom should I choose,” he asked. Actually he said “who.” His teacher suggested the usual heroes, amazing people like Terry Fox and Nelson Mandela—and they certainly are my heroes. But most of the students in his class had heard everything there was to know about these extraordinary people of courage and conviction. Would his classmates learn anything new by studying them once again?

I pulled out the DVD I’d been looking at while researching Nubia for my next book. I said, “Why don’t you write about Adam Sterling.”

Of course my son had never heard of Adam Sterling. Not many people have. He’s a waiter in a restaurant in California—not a spectacular career to make him notable. But it was what he did that made him exceptional. He decided to protest the genocide that was taking place in Darfur. Not only did he stand beside the notables: George Clooney, Don Cheadle and Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, he also educated himself regarding law and introduced a bill to the then governor/ator, Arnold Schwarzenegger. This law forbid companies in California from investing in the oil prospects in Sudan until the genocide had stopped. He had no idea how to do this, he had no experience with law, but he got involved and he learned what was required because he cared. He did something difficult in order to make a difference. That is the type of person to honour. That is the hero I most admire. Someone willing to get involved, sometimes at great peril.

Needless to say no one else in my son’s class chose this man as a hero. The teacher had never heard of him. But now, everyone in that Grade Seven class has.

I’ve always been fascinated with ordinary/exceptional people. It’s why I focused on the Dutch people who harboured and protected those targeted by the Nazis in World War II in my second TM novel. I discovered my grandparents hid Jews beneath their chicken coop at great risk to their own lives. I can’t imagine the courage it took to do that. To stand up for what is right, even under the threat of Hitler's retribution. To run into a burning building on verge of collapse and rescue people. I can only write about it and admire, and hope, if I’m ever faced with that kind of situation, that I won’t run the other way.

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