I've been thinking the past couple weeks about the usage of the word "hero". You hear it used all the time-- Olympic athletes are "heroes", the blind guy who climbed Everest is a "hero"... actors, athletes, politicians, dare-devils, you name it, they're "heroes" in this day and age.
People do great and inspiring things. I love watching the Olympics-- what people have trained themselves to do is incredible, and the humility of (some of) the athletes is a good lesson. The first man to climb Everest and return did a great thing, to say nothing of the blind man. Even some of the celebrities have done great things. But does that make them a hero? Nope.
A hero is a person who takes substantial risks for someone else. Climbing a mountain is cool, yes, but unless you did it to save the life of someone on the other side, that doesn't make you a hero. Winning a gold medal? Not hero status.
It seems like the true heroes don't get remembered for very long, unless it's by the people closest to them and their heroism. How many people, in five years, will understand why some people find the phrase "Let's roll" moving and inspiring? How many people will remember (or even know today) the name of Liviu Librescu? In yesterday's shootings at Virginia Tech, this professor, a survivor of the Holocaust, was shot while saving his students. Lacking a barricade, he made himself into one. He blocked the door with his body, and gave his students time to run. He died, but none of his students did.
We remember tragedies for a time. We teach our children to remember the dates, the numbers. But not the names. We teach them, instead, to know names the names of actors, athletes, and reckless dare-devils. I want my children to grow up knowing and honoring names like Todd Beamer and Liviu Librescu.