Published Thursday, July 4, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 3:30 pm
Christine M. Flowers: There are heroes all around us

Most of us wake up in the morning, adjust our eyes to the light, wash off the residue of slumber and steady ourselves for the day’s work. Sometimes it’s a happy prospect, sometimes drudgery, but for the vast majority it’s neither joy nor sorrow. It’s just life.

And then you have those special ones, people who, for different reasons but common goals, rush into the day with adrenaline, courage and the knowledge that each step might be taking them toward their last. They are heroes, though they’d reject that title. And the true hero is precisely the one who doesn’t recognize his own face in the mirror but only appreciates the courage in those around him.

They are not defined by their separate faiths, although there is usually something in them that recognizes a higher power. Atheists can be courageous, and you could even say that they have the most to lose in risking themselves because on the other side of life is — nothing.

But heroes are humble, and you need to be humble to believe in God because that belief removes you from the center of the universe and helps you find your place in the hierarchy of humanity. To those who finger rosaries, sit Shiva, bow toward Mecca or search for the inner light, heroism comes from reaching outward — and then upward.

All of this is to say that in a world where many of us sit at desks, drive cars or tap on keyboards to earn our daily bread, it is important to remember the ones who live and die for others. For us, in fact. It is particularly important to do so this week, when we commemorate both the impossibly heroic founding of our nation and, 90 years later, the desperate struggle to save it from being destroyed.

Philadelphians live shoulder to shoulder with the memories of heroes. Each stone bears the imprint of some important thing, some momentous happening that shaped us into the nation we’ve become. It’s the whispering echo of liberty, captured forever on parchment and then given to the colonies and the greater world with the flourish of a pen. Heroes hung their hats here during that sweltering July.

It’s the sacrifice in the frozen fields of Valley Forge, where the struggle to survive hunger and fear and grasp the better angels of the human soul was as heroic as any battle.

It is also the consecrated ground at Gettysburg, where Americans — not colonists — faced down other Americans who’d lost the memory of Valley Forge and Lexington and Saratoga and thought they could re- create as great a nation as the one they’d been bequeathed by Jefferson, Madison and the rest.

This is the continuing chain of heroism that forms a civic spine for a country of challengers and dreamers. It’s no wonder that we give birth to men who write things like “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights” or “We the People, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice” or “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

We. We. We. As John Donne wrote, no man is an island, and even though America is based in part upon a passion for individual freedom and liberty, we also recognize that we are only as strong as our weakest link. And that is the essence of our heroism, or at least the heroism of those citizens who greet the day and the week and the following years with dedication to their brothers and sisters.

This heroism is not a thing of the past, or even the recent past. Statues commemorate the figures of the revolution and other wars. We bow our heads at Arlington, at Normandy, before the sleek black marble of the Vietnam memorial in Washington and the somber memorials to the first responders of 9/11.

But each day brings new heroes — and new sorrow. Even as we remember the sacrifice of the soldiers at Valley Forge and Gettysburg this week, we are forced to say prayers for 19 other heroes whose battlefield out west was engulfed in wildfire and who fought not to forge a nation or to preserve it but to protect her citizens from the banal dangers of peacetime.

Nineteen young men called the “Granite Mountain Hotshots” lost their lives battling raging infernos in Arizona. They were the Navy SEALs of firefighters, elite of their chosen profession and, with one exception, their entire unit was killed trying to stop the flames.

These are the type of people who are still among us, generations on. For it is true, as Dylan Thomas once wrote, “And death shall have no dominion.”

Lori Jenkins, charged as accessory in 4 murders, waives speedy trial
Iowa State servers hacked, nearly 30,000 SSNs at risk
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
2nd District House race: After 8 terms, Lee Terry knows how D.C. works — and doesn't
Bellevue man is killed at Minnesota dance hall after South Sudanese basketball tourney
Spring corn planting still sputters in Nebraska, Iowa, other key states
Nebraska banking and finance director to retire
19-year-old killed in one-vehicle crash at 72nd & Shirley
Gov. Heineman vetoes bill to ease restrictions on nurse practitioners
U.S. Senate race: State Auditor Mike Foley defends Shane Osborn against ad campaign
Public defender to represent Nikko Jenkins in sentencing
Mid-America Center on track for lower operating loss
Bluffs City Council approves dozens of new numbered street lights
National Law Enforcement Memorial Week set for May
Ted Cruz backs Pete Ricketts' campaign for governor
Omahan charged with 5th-offense DUI after street race causes rollover
2 blocks of Grover Street closed
Safety board report blames pilot error in 2013 crash that killed UNO student, passenger
Omaha man accused in shooting ordered held on $75,000 bail
2 men charged with conspiracy to distribute meth held on $1 million bail each
Waitress who served alcohol to teen before fatal crash gets jail time, probation
La Vista plans meeting on sales tax proposal, 84th Street redevelopment
6-mile stretch of Highway 75 is the road not taken
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Millard school board bans e-cigarettes from all district properties, events
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Breaking Brad: Into the claw machine! Florida kid follows Lincoln kid's lead
In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a child climbed inside a claw machine. Hey, Florida kid: Nobody likes a copycat.
Breaking Brad: Even Chuck Hassebrook's throwing mud!
The Nebraska campaigns have turned so ugly, Democrat Chuck Hassebrook lobbed unfounded accusations at an imaginary opponent.
Breaking Brad: Kraft wiener recall is business opportunity for TD Ameritrade Park
Instead of returning the wieners, TD Ameritrade Park is calling them "cheese dogs" and charging double.
Breaking Brad: Photos with the Easter Bunny are so 2010
In a sign of the times, most kids ran out of patience waiting for a photo with the Easter Bunny at the mall, just snapped a selfie and went home.
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
A World War II veteran from Omaha will return this week to Europe to commemorate a tragedy in the run-up to D-Day.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Steam-A-Way Carpet Cleaning
$50 for 3 rooms and a Hallway up to 600 square feet
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »