**Companion Resources Newsletter**
edited by Paul D. Leichty
Volume 4, No. 2 February 2002
In recent years, and especially since the events of September 11, 2001, there has been much made of the heroes of our society. In this issue of the Companion Resources Newsletter, we will make some observations about heroism in light of our ongoing efforts on behalf of marginalized persons.
Probably most, if not all, of us have some fascination for heroes. I think I understand better why that is after looking up the dictionary definition of “hero.” I was struck by the fact that the first definition has to do with a mythological person with god-like characteristics. Perhaps our longing for a hero is a longing to experience God, or at least something beyond ourselves.
The subsequent dictionary definitions spoke more to the way we currently use the word. A hero (which, by the way, can be a man or a woman since “heroine” is not used much except in literature) is someone “admired for his achievements and noble qualities” or “one that shows great courage” (Merriam Webster Dictionary). The American Heritage Dictionary notes particularly the usage we have seen since September 11: “A person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life…”
These three aspects of heroism, (1) achievement against the odds, (2) courage, and (3) giving one’s life for a cause, stand out to me as worthy of further exploration.
A dictionary is a handy tool to have when you need it. These days, for occasional use, you don’t have to spend megabucks for a three-inch thick book that sits on your bookshelf most of the time. Dictionaries abound on the Internet. A site I discovered with links to a multitude of dictionaries is yourDictionary.com (http://www.yourdictionary.com/). Whether you want to do a simple word look-up, find synonyms from a thesaurus, or translate words to more than 250 other languages, you’ll find it at yourDictionary.com. This link along with others is found on Companion Resources’ Internet page at https://companionresources.org/info/.
Last week, I heard an unusual hero speak during Disabilities Week celebrations at the University of Notre Dame. He was a star in the acclaimed television series “Life Goes On” and has appeared as a guest in numerous other television shows, including “Touched By an Angel.” He speaks to groups around the country and appears with a music group. He is also the author of a book about himself called Special Kind of Hero: Chris Burke’s Own Story .
Thirty-six years ago, Frank and Marian Burke were advised to put their infant son with Down Syndrome into an institution. Instead, they raised him along with the rest of their children. They gave him plenty of love and instilled in him a “can-do” attitude. They also made sure that Chris had the best education they could find.
As a teenager, Chris Burke had two goals in life. One of those goals was to be an actor. Chris achieved that goal when he played Corky Thatcher on “Life Goes On.”
There are many actors in this world, people who are looked up to and admired. We might think of them as heroes because of their achievement. But Chris is a “special kind of hero” not just because he has achieved TV stardom, but because he has overcome even greater odds due to his Down Syndrome.
From the crowd at Notre Dame, it was obvious that Chris Burke is a hero and a role model, especially to the persons who also have developmental disabilities. Sometimes, it was almost painfully obvious how “special” Chris is as even he struggled to understand the questions put to him by folks who were far less articulate.
That leads me to the second attribute of heroism–courage. I have no doubt that it takes plenty of courage for Chris to stand up before audiences and say what he does. However, I suspect that it takes at least an equal amount courage for many of the folks in the audience to stand up and ask their questions. For that matter, there are many persons who exert tremendous energy against great odds to simply get through their daily routines day after day. Does that make them heroes, too? They will probably get precious little recognition, but they, too, are heroes in my mind.
Remember that I said that Chris Burke had two goals in life? That second goal makes him even more of a hero than being on a television show. Even before he was a TV star, Chris had started living out his other goal–to work with persons with special challenges. Today, he continues to carry out that goal, serving as a spokesperson for the National Down Syndrome Society and editor of “News & Views” which is billed as “the only magazine written for and by young adults with Down syndrome.”
The dramatic heroes are the ones who put their lives on the line by risking even death so that others can have life. Without taking anything away from the heroism of such folks, I would suggest that there are thousands and indeed millions of people who give their lives every day to bring a decent quality of life to folks who would otherwise be marginalized. Rather than offer their lives in the unusual moment of emergency, these day-to-day heroes give their lives away little by little in constantly demanding circumstances over the course of many years.
Indeed, that kind of heroism is what it takes to build community, particularly when that community includes folks who don’t usually fit into our normal community patterns of life. As I experience the energy and stamina and, yes, even the courage to do even the little bit that I do, I bless those who have worked and struggled much more than I. They are truly heroes, too!
If you are interested in learning more about Chris Burke or Down Syndrome, here is a beginning list of sites. I’ve also posted these links with more notes at https://companionresources.org/Learning/Downs
Chris Burke’s Official Fan Club Site
National Down Syndrome Society
Down Syndrome: Health Issues
Recommended Down Syndrome Sites on the Internet
Purchase your own copy of Chris Burke’s autobiography:
See the link at https://companionresources.org/Learning/Downs
I encourage you to celebrate the everyday heroes in your life that add to the quality of life for persons with special needs and help to build communities that include all persons.
Paul D. Leichty
Phone/Fax: 1-877-214-9838 (toll free)
“People using Technology building Community”