Friday, August 23, 2013




noun, plural he·roes; for 5 also he·ros.
a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.
a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal: He was a local hero when he saved the drowning child.
the principal male character in a story, play, film, etc.

I don't have many heroes, never have had. Mostly, I'm sure, because few people live up to the term - to me it's not just about someone who's done something heroic (I believe you can perform acts of heroism yet not qualify for being "a hero"). I argue with the need for the word "noble" in the definition of hero, because it doesn't seem necessary to be perfect, or even anywhere near perfect to be a hero. In my mind, being a hero is about rising above your circumstances, limitations, fears, or personal pains, and creating something good where there was something bad. Saving a life, stopping a crime, walking through hell and coming out someone who inspires, leads, teaches, and makes the world better - all those are the behaviors of a hero.

My father was a hero to me because he triumphed over a particularly dark and despairing childhood, worked very hard to save his younger brother from that same childhood, left home early to work, volunteered for the Navy as soon as he was old enough (right after Pearl Harbor), and managed to return home long enough to finish and graduate from high school. After 22 years of service he again triumphed, this time over losing his eyesight and becoming disabled. Despite what he'd been through, he saved lives (literally and figuratively), inspired people, worked with kids, donated money, and worked his best to give his family the things he'd never had - security, love, happiness. Those are thingss that I consider heroic, and there are people I've met over time who manage to beat and persevere through similar and worse odds.

Another hero for me is a man named Damien Echols. He's not someone I know personally, but he's someone whose life I've followed for 20 years, since he became entangled in a judicial system that wanted someone to pay, instead of wanting justice. If you know me personally, you probably have heard all about The West Memphis Three, and the debacle of a trial in the State of Arkansas all those years ago (you can read much more about it at or at Crime Library).

I've always been a crime watcher, but for me it's normally a somewhat distanced interest. I often have a hot-headed opinion about the guilt and/or innocence of someone, but this is the only time in my life that I've become passionately invested in the outcome of a trial during it, and for decades after. I've raised awareness as best I could over the years, written blog entries, shared information, showed people the Paradise Lost movies. Since the time that I lived in Memphis, Tennessee during the trial, I've gotten divorced, remarried, divorced, remarried (again) and had a son. I've moved from Memphis to Missouri to Chicago. I've had a weird, wonderful, amazing life... all while three men that I believed beyond certainty were innocent sat in prison - one of them, Damien Echols, on Death Row.

I received Damien's book (Life After Death) as a gift, and as I read it I find myself powerfully moved all over again. I'm horrified, heartbroken, moved, shaken by what he went through in prison. After his release in 2011, I've managed to follow a bit of his life through news and through Twitter (@damienechols). It seems that he's thriving, that his release has released a great talent and an amazing soul. I use his past story to tell people how they can persevere through so much more than they'd imagine they can bear. I hope to use his future story to tell people how much they can achieve if they try. As a mother and a would-be artist, I look to him as an example and as a hero in my own life.