The word "heroes" conjures up dramatic images. It makes us think of war heroes, those who pluck neighbours from burning buildings, save children from drowning, and other such incidents. But to me, heroism can be a much quieter, unheralded thing.
I do respect those who fought in various wars, for whatever reason. Some may have been young men looking for an adventure, and finding it not quite what they expected. Others fought from a deeply held sense of duty, or served in medical corps or in other ways. My father and his two brothers however, independently of each other came to the same conclusion: that war was wrong and they would not fight. It was an unpopular view in 1940. It must have been hard as the war progressed to be among the few young, healthy men not away fighting. Their leisure time was mostly spent helping out with chores for the wives of their friends who had been put in internment camps. (My father was luckier, as his appeal was upheld). It was hard too, for their parents - those who lost sons overseas were not well disposed towards those who had not just one but three sons refusing to serve.
My father never made a big deal about his story. He just quietly got on with his life, and served others in whatever capacity he could, compatible with his beliefs. His stance may have seemed a feeble effort at the time, but I believe that many New Zealanders views now have been shaped in part by the consciences of that small group of people, who were often very harshly treated.
My mother, too, was someone who seemed "just an ordinary mother" to me in the fifties. Nothing unusual about her. It was only later that I came to realise that she was a pioneer too, in her own quiet way. I was the first baby born in Wellington by natural childbirth. Nowadays it seems quite normal to refuse drugs, learn breathing techniques, room in with the baby, even have a home birth and all that goes with that. It is one thing to do it when it is an accepted choice. It is quite another thing when medical personnel are against it and you have to make a real effort to stand up for what you want. I can't help feeling that I would have caved in to accepted practice, but my mother knew what she wanted and made sure of getting it. And later there were other things, like standing up to teachers when their methods of discipline were dubious (to say the least) - and she was able to be polite and respectful while making her viewpoint clear.
To me, the real heroes are people like these. Not the ones who make dramatic rescues when things go wrong, but those who progress civilisation, in numerous small ways every day, even when their view is unfashionable.
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