OUR UNSUNG HEROES
When I was younger, I developed the habit of elevating certain personages to hero status in my mind. Quite often these figures were really simply only very ordinary people, who hadn’t done anything outstanding enough for the rest of the world to take notice. But to my childlike way of viewing things, they’d made such an overwhelming impression that they earned my love, and respect, and adoration. Fittingly enough my first heroes were my parents, who were with me every day and did so many magnificent things for me that I couldn’t do for myself.
Most of my early heroes were very close to me, like uncles and aunts who brought me treats from time to time, and said what a good boy I was. And I had an older cousin who used to take me for rides on his bicycle before I was old enough to learn to ride by myself. I absolutely adored him – talk about “hero-worship”!
I hated school, and didn’t to well in any subjects. But I had one wonderfully kind teacher in the fifth grade, who encouraged me in English Composition, and another teacher in the seventh grade who taught history and geography. I never did well in those classes either, but I adored those two teachers for treating me decently and making me feel as though I had some real potential. It didn’t show up until long after I had quit school, but I have always revered the memory of those two teachers among my personal heroes.
Traditionally, the idea of a hero is somebody who does something outstanding, often putting his own life at risk, or sacrificing himself in the service of others. But in the modern era things have changed so much that all kinds of people and images are accorded hero status and worshipped as such. Entertainers, gamblers, sports-figures, militants, criminals and their high-priced lawyers, and even cartoon characters are now filling up the ranks of the heroes of the day. Values are changing along with the times, and our sensibilities are in a state of flux.
The other morning I was sitting in one of the gazebos down by the Charlestown pier, waiting for the ferry. A cleaner with his broom and dustpan, briskly cleaning up the area, stopped by me for a moment and asked about things I had written in the newspaper. He was a friendly fellow and I found him interesting. Suddenly I asked if he would like me to write about him in the newspaper. He immediately backed off a little – taken by surprise I suppose, and wondered what I could possibly want to write about him in the newspaper.
I told him that I could write about the job he was doing, and the way that he was doing it. I told him that I felt that what he was doing was just as important as many higher-paying but more glamorous jobs that other people in the community were doing. He agreed with me on that assessment, but wasn’t sure about how I would write about it. I wasn’t so sure either. As a matter of fact, I’m never sure about what I write about until I actually write it. But the idea has to start somewhere, and just by this chance encounter I’d gotten the idea to write something about him and others like him, who are doing a job that most of us wouldn’t want to do, but is actually so essential.
It doesn’t take a great mind to realize how disgusting a place Nevis would be if nobody was assigned to do certain jobs like cleaning the streets and picking up and disposing of garbage. As things stand, garbage and trash are sometimes not picked up frequently enough in certain areas, and the resulting overflow of trash bins, with the waste materials littering the area and befouling the air and natural beauty of the island, is a continuing, serious problem. But we have to be thankful, because the problem could be much, much worse if we could not find those people who are willing to be employed as street cleaners and garbage collectors.
Heroes are usually inspirational figures whose actions can affect or influence the lives of many others. Florence Nightingale, Jesus Christ, and Mother Theresa, ministering to the sick and afflicted; Rosa Parks, Joan of Arc, Martin Luther King, and Harriet Tubman, taking a stand or fighting for the rights of their people; Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Nelson Mandela, whose years spent in prisons could not dull their indominatable spirits and quest for human dignity; Helen Keller and Stephen Hawking, whose serious physical afflictions could not suppress the ability of their minds to function at the highest human levels.
We rightly honour and sing the praises of these and many others, especially where deeds of valour and sacrifice are concerned. But many who live and work among us, are daily occupied in work that though not glamorous or highly esteemed, is beneficial for the whole community, and is actually one of our most important essential services. I sometimes see the Garbage trucks in the early mornings or late a night, being loaded by a couple of sturdy fellows doing their jobs. I don’t envy them because it is not the sort of job that I would want to do. Perhaps it is not the job that they really want to do either, but it may be the only thing that is open to them at the time.
Whatever the case, it is a job that needs to be done. Like the street cleaners, and the fellow I met cleaning up the gazebo, and others who may be doing jobs that bring no glory and that nobody else really wants to do, these people deserve some recognition and respect from the rest of us in the community. While they may not be risking their lives in the service of others, they are at risk of being denied the equal status with the rest of the community which they so richly deserve for the invaluable services they render, day in and day out. For when our trash-men falter, who will eagerly step forward to fill those boots?
Finally, I just want to say that many of the familiar figures that are so widely revered as heroes, arose from very humble circumstances. I think though that sometimes heroes can be found remaining within their humble circumstances. I just wish by this column, to recognize some of our humble heroes. Thank you.