Love & Heroism
Several years ago I met an artist who is also a single mum to a special needs kid, a tireless advocate for those less fortunate, and an unquenchable believer in the power of human positivity. She had need to be - her life entered a challenging phase as her relationship faltered and she found herself struggling alone with her son and facing her darkest time. Her faith in herself, and the world around her, was sorely tested in these moments.
She asked me to write her something to help her mood, and I did my best. At first I sent her chapters from my novels, or scenes I was workshopping. I thought happy endings and forward momentum for heroines and heroes might inspire her. I checked in every few days and one day I asked if my words helped. She wiped her eyes, looked straight at me, and said:
"I don't think of heroes the same way you do. For me, a hero isn't someone mythical and amazing. It's me, struggling to hold it together at 2am when I race to my kid's room because his fever's spiking, he can barely breathe and there's nothing I can do but hold him tight until it breaks. Then I sit beside him alone in the dark, crying silent tears so my son won't notice. Can that be heroic too?"
Her words hit me hard because she was right. The heroes I relate to most, aren't the ones who turn the world backwards a la Superman. They're not necessarily dragon-slayers or aristocrats. They're the people who love themselves through the worst of days, even when this feels incredibly hard to do.
Love isn't always spectacular. Sometimes it's quiet and desperately sad. Sometimes it's using your lunch break to pawn something so you can give your child a birthday, or pretending you're vegetarian because there's not enough meat for you and the kids. It's working three jobs so your siblings can finish school. It's crying in the shower so your kids don't hear it - and sometimes, it's forcing yourself out of bed to face the day because there are times this feels impossible.
Love can be hard, especially when you are all the love you have. There are times when the hero you are, is all that sustains you. When you must be the scaffolding that holds your heart steady in the face of oncoming squalls. When there's no hope to be had, and no one to call on, and you love yourself enough to keep going anyway - that's my friend's kind of hero. There's a powerful dignity in loving yourself heroically when it feels like no one else can. It's silent and difficult. There are no roses unless you supply them - but is it worth it? She believes it is, and so do I.
At the end of the day your hero is you, not giving up - and that matters so much more than we realise. All around us are people looking for footholds to help them stay here, stay steady, stabilise their hearts and souls... What they're really looking for is a reason - and for all of us, love isn't about reason. It's about faith. This isn't necessarily a religious thing, at least not in the traditional sense (though deities are heroes for many millions of people). Faith in yourself can be hard to come by - and holding on in those moments is heroic. When your strength fails, when you're ready to throw in the towel, that's when you showing up for you matters the most. That's when you're needed.
I messaged my artist friend once, asking 'why can't I give up?' She pinged me back instantly: 'because I love you.' Love then, informs heroism. This is often so quiet, so subtle, and so beautiful that it’s easy to miss it. Like unfurling flowers on a mountain path, we barely notice self-love until the worst of our darkness is past. Then we seem 'suddenly' to see what blooms in the aftermath of pain: Beauty, and the most powerful kind of love there is. Is it fragile? Yes, but it's resilient too. Love makes heroes of us all.