An esteemed colleague of mine took voluntary retirement in the tumult of budget cuts and departmental reorganization that followed the recent recession. He asked whether his situation was tragic or heroic. Here’s what I said:
I cling to the notion (perhaps the illusion?) of agency. While we can’t control huge institutions and economic trends we can construct the narratives of our own lives. So I’d choose heroic.
Twice in my life I’ve been physically assaulted by people bigger and stronger than me. In both cases I was attacked in public spaces by people who were psychotic and in both cases there was minor damage done to my body. The first time a woman jumped me. I fell to the ground on my back with this raving woman on top of me, looked in her eyes and asked, “What are you doing?” Then someone pulled her off. I ended up bruised and sore. The second time a man attacked my friend when she stood up in a crowded restaurant. He punched her repeatedly in the chest, breaking a few ribs in the process. I stood up and yelled at her to “Get down!” So, naturally, he went after me, hitting me in the face, breaking a tooth and nearly breaking my jaw. He kept hitting until some men pulled him away.
For years I’ve looked at those incidents and wondered why I was such a wimp. Why didn’t I fight back? Wonder Woman would have paralyzed those lunatics. But me? I didn’t lift a finger. I’ve felt very much the victim ever since and that has done me no good at all when walking down city streets. Only lately has it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, I did the right thing. I “used my words” and maybe that slowed things down just enough to keep pain and damage to a minimum. I guess the people who came to my rescue walked away feeling heroic. But in my old age I’m starting to give myself a bit of credit.
Maybe the big heroes demolish bad guys and rescue victims. The rest of us just show up and persist and do what we can to make the world a less damaging place. . . So yeah, I’d choose heroic.