What is a true hero?

In a self-centered world where we are so focused on ourselves and what we can “get out of ” things, truly selfless acts are rare.  So many times we see problems, but we choose to ignore them because it’s simply too much hastle.  And besides “someone else will fix it.”  We use this same excuse when we see people in need, saying “someone else will help them.”  Real heroes are the people who do not wait on the “someone else.”  They take the initiative to act out when others either won’t or are unable to.

I don’t know my hero’s name. All I know is that he saved my life one summer and also changed the way I look at people.  My hero isn’t tall, proud, or graceful in anyway. He doesn’t have any super powers or a special suit.  Quite the opposite, in fact, the man had long hair, tattoos, and overall an extremely rough appearance. Honestly, he was the kind of person, who if I had met him on the street, I would have nervously kept my distance.  Yet this is the man who saved my life. 

One day, swimming underwater in the lake along the rope that marked off the swimming area, I was snagged by a three pronged fishing treble hook through my stomach and tangled in a mass of fishing line.  Luckily, I was able to make it to the surface, but only enough to where my head was just barely above the water.  I yelled for help knowing there was a good chance no one would hear me or understand the direness of my situation. 

Immediately, while the entire rest of the beach remained unaware, this Hippy-Rambo type character leaped up, sprinted across the beach, dove into the water, and swam like a maniac towards me.  This man tore through the water with everything he had, as if his own son was drowning. Immediately after he reached me he began gnawing at the fishing line with his teeth.   A normal person might try to swim out to help, but to gnaw through the line with his teeth?  I don’t understand why he cared so much, almost as if the minute he heard my shouts he made it his personal mission that he himself would die before he let me drown. 

In English class, we talk about American mythologist Joseph Campbell’s outline and the first steps to becoming a hero: “The Call to Adventure” and “The Refusal of the Call.” 

 In my story, there was no room for a refusal of the call.  He didn’t think about whether or not he should help, and he didn’t wait for someone else, he took action immediately.  And the truth is, if he had hesitated, I might not be alive today. This man is a hero to me, and he taught me not to judge a person by their outward appearance. 

Afterwards, after I was free from the line and made it to shore, that man disappeared.  I never got to officially meet and thank him for what he did.  However, even though I don’t know his name, his compassion towards a complete stranger will always amaze me, and he will live on as an example of what a true hero is.