I have a buddy who’s an artist.
He draws, he paints, he carves, he sculpts — he does all the things you’d expect an artist to do. He’s been doing these things as long as I’ve known him, which is getting close to 40 years now. He’s very good — at least I believe he is.
You wouldn’t know he’s an artist at first glance. He’s a big guy — a northeast Iowa farm boy — and looks pretty tough. On the high school football field, he was a helluva linebacker, and he still looks like a linebacker, even though he’s in his 50s. I’m not saying artists aren’t typically tough, I’m just saying my buddy looks more like a typical linebacker than a typical artist.
He teaches some art classes, some of them for kids. One of those classes is called something like “How to Draw Superheroes.” He’s told me the kids love that class, because they get to create their own self-illustrated superhero narrative, with the superpowers they want them to have.
There’s a trick to it though. He’s told me that when you’re creating a superhero, you don’t just decide what superpowers he or she has because you think they’re cool powers. You can’t just say, “this guy can fly” or “this woman can see through walls” without cause. The superpowers have to be in response to a societal need.
So the kids have to think about it — what superpower would be helpful in solving a problem in the world?
The strength to lift two tons with one hand would be helpful, if there were a sudden rash of people trapped under cars. The ability to stop bullets would be helpful during a active shooter situation at a school.
If billions of people were starving, the power to instantly grow food would be an important one. The power to control fire with your mind would be valuable in squelching forest fires in Colorado — or in lighting my charcoal grill to cook some ribeye steaks.
The point is, heroes aren’t born heroic. Heroes emerge as a reaction to a situation.
This isn’t just true in comic books and on movie screens. This is true in the real world.
I met a couple young men on Tuesday who would never call themselves heroes, and I know they’d be upset with me if I called them that.
In fact, when I told Rockford volunteer firefighters Corey Johnson and Jim Moore that there are some people who are calling what they did heroic, they shook their heads.
“We were just at the right place at the right time,” they said. “We were just doing what we signed up to do.”
And they’re right, but not exactly.
No matter how much training they’ve gone through, no one signs up to drive into — and then run into — the whirling terror of a tornado.
And let’s speak plainly, what happened in Rockford late Saturday afternoon was a tornado, whether the National Weather Service can confirm it or not.
The wind picked a man’s truck up off the road, lifted it more than 25 feet off the ground, and slammed it down into a field, some 50 feet away. That’s just something you don’t see every day. It may not meet all the technical qualifications, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s a tornado.
Those two young men reacted to the situation, risked their own livelihoods, and got a third young man to safety.
And they don’t even have any superpowers — at least none that I’m aware of.
They both told me Tuesday that they thought any one of their comrades in the Rockford Volunteer Fire Department would have done the same thing they did.
I believe they’re probably right about that.
I was over in Rockford Sunday, and I saw the mess the storm had left behind. And I saw a lot of volunteers, cleaning up.
The progress of the cleanup from Sunday to Tuesday in Rockford was remarkable. When I met with Johnson and Moore, they were covered with dirt and sweat and sawdust. They’d just put in their third straight 12-hour day of cutting up and hauling out the more than 300 trees downed by the storm — among other things.
Twelve hours? Maybe it was 16. Some of those among them might have been putting in 18 hour days, for all I know.
These people reacted to a situation, and cleaned up Mother Nature’s mess. And that’s a lot of work.
It may not meet all the technical qualifications of a hero. And they may be upset, in Rockford, if I were to call them heroes.
So I won’t call them that.
I’ll just say they’ve behaved as heroes do.