The Best Hero There Is
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By Denise Linn

Soldier in IraqI was on a flight into San Francisco and I surreptitiously noticed the young man sitting next to me in the middle seat. He radiated a calm centeredness. He didn’t seem to be squirming in the struggle for “personal boundaries” that so often accompanies those who are stuffed into tight middle seats. As I’m always intrigued to find out what beliefs are held by those who seem at peace, amidst the chaos of everyday life, I engaged him in conversation.

He explained that he was a Marine and had been stationed four different times in Iraq. He said his life was often in peril and there were many times when buddies, on either side of him, had been killed or seriously wounded. I couldn’t understand how someone—who had been in that much constant danger and who had seen so many violent deaths and carried shrapnel in his arms—could be so at peace.

When I asked him what sustained his spirit, he pulled out a dog-eared, well-worn book. He said, “As a warrior, I know that death is always a possibility. I have found my peace through studying the way of ancient samurais.” The book he held in his hand was called, Bushido: The Way of the Samurai.

He said, “In a way, this is my manual for life. I read it over and over.” He explained that the concepts in the book, which was written in eighteenth century Japan by a respected samurai warrior, were very difficult for the Western mind to comprehend. However, there were aspects of the code that really appealed to him, such as being in absolute service for the well-being of others and a willingness to die at any moment.

He said, “In Iraq I woke up every morning accepting my death. I know that this sounds strange, but it gave me a kind of peace. I wasn’t afraid of dying in battle, because I had already accepted my death. This allowed a kind of peace to fill me and maybe it also helped keep me safe because on the battlefield I wasn’t always reacting out of fear.”

I told him that I was of Cherokee heritage, and Native American warriors had a similar code. My ancestors would wake up in the morning and say, “It’s a good day to die.” This didn’t mean that they wanted to die, but it meant that in every moment there was a feeling of completion and a satisfaction. In a way, this is totally being in the present moment. It is a powerful stand to take in life. Accepting. Open. Present. Aware.

As we were leaving the plane, he put something in my hands. I looked down and saw his tattered book. He said, “I’m grateful for our conversation and I want to give you my book as a gift.” I proclaimed that I couldn’t take his beloved copy. But he insisted saying, “I really want you to have this.” As I saw him turn the corner in the airport, my heart was so open.

Because of this chance encounter I started thinking about the power of releasing the past, being in the present with acceptance of “what is” even if it means facing death, and what it means to be a “hero.” (For me this young man was a kind of hero. Putting politics aside, he was willing to put his life on the line to be of service to others.)

I have written about this before but it’s worth repeating. I think that we all want to be heroes. (I know that I do.) I believe we all have an extraordinary, courageous being inside of us. It’s just a matter of letting her/him out. So I started to think about what code of honor I would need to accept for myself if I were to start becoming even more of “a hero.” (You might find that you have a different creed for yourself, but this is what I came up with for myself.)

To me, being a hero means:

  • To do what’s right… even if you are afraid.
  • To listen to the inner wisdom of your soul…and not the random opinions of others.
  • To be kind… and remember that sometimes the person you need to be kindest to is yourself.
  • To live by choice… not chance.
  • To pursue excellence… excel, but not compete.
  • To have integrity… keep your word and your commitments.
  • To make corrections and changes… not make excuses.
  • To be fair and treat all people with respect, and understand their point of view… even if you don’t agree with it.

Most of all being a hero means accepting yourself with a depth of kindness even when you act less-than-noble. All bad behavior comes from fear or ignorance and when you judge anyone (including yourself) for acting badly or imperfectly, you lose the ability to influence that being.

When you accept your imperfections—and still are willing to brush yourself off and start again—you can make changes… for you are on a heroic journey of the heart. To me this is the best kind of hero. The kind of hero I strive to be.

For me one of the most powerful ways to step into being the hero is to live as this Marine did… to accept my death (for this way I can truly live life to its fullest), release my past and be willing to live in the present moment.

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