This past week, the world lost two heroes. One hero lost his standing in society and one hero lost his life. If you believe in a higher power, and I do, you can understand why I believe the former is the greater tragedy.
Lance Armstrong is an American citizen, but he was renowned the world over as a seven-time winner of the Tour de France. Does that make him a hero? Not to me. Sports figures are celebrities, not heroes. His accomplishments were legendary, but not heroic. What made him a hero was his triumph over cancer, combined with his ability to take the adversity he faced, the fame he’d acquired, his innate talent, and his drive and ambition and create an organization that raises money to help cancer patients every day. I don’t know if he’s guilty of the accusations levied against him, nor do I care. What I care about is whether those accusations will ultimately cost his foundation, and therefore, the cancer patients who benefit from it. The loss of the titles isn’t the tragedy; the detriments to the organization is.
Neil Armstrong was also an American citizen, but he didn’t even belong to this planet. He left footprints on the moon. He risked his life for his country when we were engaged in the space race, and he left this earth to help the Unites States win that race. However, when he set foot on our moon and said, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” he wasn’t just talking about our country; he was talking about the world. Decades later, our country collaborates with several other countries in space, working on the International Space Station, an endeavor that probably wouldn’t have been possible without Armstrong’s efforts. His passing is a sad thing for those loved ones he leaves behind, but his legacy is a proud one.
As writers, we will likely never have titles that can be stripped from us. We will probably never have one line that the world stops and listens to us speak. But our words do live on for eternity, so we should choose them carefully. We shouldn’t steal them from others. We shouldn’t carelessly and quickly publish them and move on to the next project without concern for quality or integrity. We may never be heroes, but we do touch people’s lives, and we have a responsibility to do so to the best of our abilities.