Remember Jay Ward? His name will likely ring few bells. Ward was a creator and animator during the early days of television. Old-timers might remember his character Crusader Rabbit. But Ward’s claim to fame came with help from two other creations, a flying squirrel named Rocky and a French Canadian moose named Bullwinkle. Combining high and low humor, Ward’s cartoons simultaneously entertained children and adults. Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends (later The Bullwinkle Show) gave viewers hours of pure fun.
One of Rocky’s friends was a stumbling bumbling Canadian Mountie. He was Dudley Do-Right, the “lonely defender of justice and fair play: handsome, brave, daring… and hopelessly lost.” Dudley needed help from just about everyone, including his horse, to get his man – always the dastardly Snidely Whiplash III. But once a week he saved damsel-in-distress Nell Fenwick from death on a railroad track, in a sawmill, or over a waterfall. Dudley’s audiences loved him. Americans love heroes.
The word “hero” goes way back to the days of Greek mythology. Hero was a priestess to whom her lover Leander would swim every night. When Leander drowned in a storm, the grief-stricken Hero threw herself into the sea. In myths a hero was portrayed as a person of superhuman qualities and often of semi-divine origin. Today the dictionary defines a hero as a person admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.
What marks a hero? Heroism is not something that a person chooses to do for a living. There are no schools for heroes, nor is there on-the-job training for the position. A hero doesn’t spend his days searching for a damsel in distress waiting to be rescued. A hero is just an ordinary person unexpectedly thrust into an extraordinary situation.
Life is filled with choices, and like the rest of us, a hero must respond to what it placed before him. Unlike the rest of us a hero chooses to face risk, even when the risk is great. While others are searching for reasons to hide behind a rock, a hero steps out in harm’s way. He does so not because he wants to but because he must. For a hero, there are things greater than self-interest, even greater than self. He risks everything to serve a greater good or nobler purpose, not himself. A drug dealer will start a turf war to expand his operation, but a hero will fall on a grenade to save his buddies. The cost of heroism is often painfully high; heroes do not always walk away unscathed. But for a hero, the price he pays is worth the good he does.
There is one more mark of a hero: humility. Our bravest heroes are often also our humblest people. Heroes do not perform brave deed to win places of glory. They act out of fidelity to the call of duty. They would be happy to remain unsung. For them, it is enough to have done the right thing.
We most readily associate heroes with soldiers, police officers, and fire fighters, for we naturally associate heroism with battle. But there are some battles not fought by these heroes. Today, our culture is engaged in pitched battle over the right to life, a battle pitting notions of choice against the call of duty to help the helpless. Some have bought into the notion that when a woman becomes pregnant, the life within her has no right whatsoever. Unfortunate timing? Unhealthy situation? Unhappy partner or parent? These have become accepted reasons to move on without the baby, even if it means killing.
For others, what has become socially acceptable will always be morally unacceptable. And for a special group, pro-life is more than an abstract belief; it is a commitment to embrace the greater good. They are the birthmothers, women who reject abortion in hope that the life growing within them will come to prosper in the hands of others. A birthmother’s circumstances are often not easy. She may be a teenager who mistakenly believed that she was immune from consequences. She may be a woman victimized by rape or incest. She fully understands that there is a way out, the so-called quick fix. But she also understands that there is an innocent child, God’s child, who needs her desperately. So she does what she must.
Her nine-month journey may be filled with difficulty. The physical and emotional struggles. The shame of admitting to a problem, possibly one she didn’t cause. The stares from unsympathetic teachers and classmates. The heartbreak of rejection and abandonment by family and friends who cannot handle the situation. Yet she goes forward because it is the best for her child-a child from whom she must prepare to separate. And that is itself a struggle. A birthmother will not hear her child say “momma,” watch a first step, hold a bouquet of freshly picked dandelions, attend a graduation, or hug a grandchild. The price of heroism can be painfully high. But for the birthmother, it is only God’s good that matters.
A birthmother is a blessing to so many. Without her love, her child would not exist to experience the tragedies and triumphs of life. She is a Godsend to adoptive parents grown despondent over the possibility that they may never have children. To them, a birthmother is the sacred vase carrying a flower. The birthmother is a blessing to the world itself. We recently celebrated the life of Steven Jobs, an adopted child. But a child need not be Jobs to be a gift. For in every human lies the potential to do good. To be a hero to someone.
In a few short days, we will celebrate our mothers. Many birthmothers will not get their richly deserved due. But knowing the good that they did, they will accept being unsung.
For a hero, it is enough to have done the right thing.
Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics. He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois, and have six kids.
© 2012 Paul V. Esposito. Culture of Life. Permission to copy and distribute for pro-life purposes is granted. Comments? Visit us at http://www.the-culture-of-life.com/