By Olivia Pan ’20
Chief Opinion Editor
“It is your character, and your character alone, that will make your life happy or unhappy.”
-John McCain (Business Insider)
Senator John McCain, an American war hero and former two-time presidential candidate, passed away on August 25 at the age of 81 after a battle with brain cancer. You don’t have to be a Republican to possess the highest level of respect and admiration for McCain, who was truly the last of his kind. He was a war hero, a man of integrity, and a politician who did not let his ideals polarize and divide those around him.
McCain, a Navy pilot during the Vietnam War, was held as a prisoner of war for five and half years by the Vietnamese, two of which were spent in solitary confinement (People.com). McCain had been offered early release after nearly a year spent imprisoned, but reportedly “refused” sticking to the POW code of conduct that says troops must accept release in the order in which they are captured (BusinessInsider). Each time I read this fact about McCain I get a slight chill; my awe of his courage and sacrifice never dissipates.
It is no secret that we live in an age and a culture where true heroes are overlooked, as they may be too mundane to stay in our consciousness: the cop on the beat who watches out for his elderly charges, the teacher who has to buy school supplies for her students which leaves her barely enough money for dinner that evening, or even a random stranger handing out sandwiches and blankets to the homeless on a bone-chilling night.
I include myself when I say that we seem to be a generation of people (this includes the generation before us) who simply do not understand what it means to possess and seek out those with real character, and who have virtually no concept of what it means to make long-term sacrifices for the greater good. I say that McCain was the last of his kind because our culture simply does not emphasize the qualities he demonstrated his entire life. Not only that, but what defines a hero has dramatically changed in our society. Today, we live in an era where young people view celebrities and social media stars as heroes. They set out to emulate them because instant success and fame is what drives the culture. We exist in a world where the Kardashians represent success, and being a “social media influencer” is actually considered a job title. My generation may be in danger of not knowing what it is to sacrifice or what it means to strive for character, partly because our so-called “heroes” don’t either. That term has come to mean so little. Today, a 20-year-old takes one mission trip to Honduras and thinks he’s a hero, but he gets to come home and eat a hot meal and sleep in a bed. Today, our biggest dilemma, at least on this campus, is whether the library stays open all night. There is nothing wrong with taking a stand about the library, so long as we continue to seek chances to make real life sacrifices for the community and acknowledge those all around us who may not have the fame of Senator McCain but are quite heroic hiding in plain sight among us.
Just recently, countless first responders stepped into action to help people after gas explosions rocked Andover, North Andover, and Lawrence, Massachusetts. These responders wasted no time “battling fires, evacuating residents and setting up shelters” (whdh.com). Additionally, after many residents from all three areas were forced to leave their homes, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) at Nevins Farm in Methuen offered to house pets who were not allowed to accompany their owners to shelters (necn). These are the kinds of people who deserve our recognition and admiration.
John McCain was a man who knew what it was to suffer, and he knew what it was to sacrifice for others. He was a rare breed and symbolizes the best of what we can be as Americans, just as the first responders to the Merrimack Valley crisis symbolize that spirit. It would be great if America could go on a fast from the likes of reality stars and supermodels and get on a healthy diet of community outreach and sacrifice. Give up those daily lattes for a month and you could feed a family of four right here in Worcester for a month. We can all be heroes hiding in plain sight.
Photo Credits: CNN.com