I'm joining the entire Red Room community in writing a short blog post on this week's topic: "Heroes." The form and the content of the blog entry are open to personal interpretation; whether this topic calls to mind a real-life hero, a fictional character, or something else altogether, we want to read your entry. We'll choose at least one of these blogs to be featured on Red Room's homepage next week, and we'll choose three blog writers to receive free books from Red Room Authors. Submit your blog entry by Friday at 10:30 a.m. PDT [GMT-0700] for consideration. Be sure to tag the entry with the keyword term "heroes blog” so we can find it.
When my colleagues and I were talking about this week's blog topic, "Heroes," the first person to come to my mind was Miep Gies, whom I first learned about in the sixth grade, when my class read Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl. This book was how young people in my Nevada school district were introduced to the subject of the Holocaust, and Gies is someone I think of often.
You're surely familiar with the story: Gies, her husband, and three of her colleagues hid and protected Anne Frank and seven other Jews, including Anne's parents and sister, for 25 months in Nazi-occupied Holland--a "crime" for which one penalty was being summarily shot. For more than two years, she struggled to keep these eight people alive when keeping herself alive was surely challenge enough. She sought out food and supplies under conditions of severe rationing and terrible fear (one of the greengrocers she bought vegetables from was arrested during this time--for hiding two Jews in his cellar).
After the group was betrayed (by an unknown informant) and the eight Jews arrested, Gies collected Anne's diaries and kept them, unread, until the war had ended--giving them to Anne's father only after it had been confirmed that Anne (as well as her sister and her mother) had died in a Nazi death camp.
Gies has often pointed out that she is just one of many people who acted bravely during a horrific time--and that many people faced circumstances far harsher than she. And she’s right. She has become a symbol for all those courageous people and actions. This is part of the reason she is lodged comfortingly in my consciousness.
But I also believe that heroism is not a matter of scale. Gies’s story is powerful because her brand of heroism is accessible to us all. She became a hero simply by always acting according to her principles--facing decisions large ("Will I risk my life to save another?) and small ("Will I protect a young woman's privacy?"), with integrity, courage, and clarity. She did what she could, with what she had, to be a force for good in a terrible world. Doing nothing at all would have been so, so easy.
She has famously protested, "I am not a hero. I just did what any decent person would have done." Well, for one thing, decency is difficult--if it were not, more people would exhibit it. And for another, I think she has landed on one good definition for heroism: It's doing what any decent person would do, step by step by step, even in the face of grave personal danger. Anyone can do the right thing when doing the right thing is easy. If you do the right thing even when it's very difficult--that's what being a hero is.
The Dutch hero Miep Gies celebrated her 100th birthday earlier this year.
Causes Charles Purdy Supports
San Francisco Food Bank, Gay Men's Health Crisis, Project Open Hand, San Francisco SPCA, Smile Train, National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association...