Adding more hero into all your characters
"At the root the idea of hero is connected with self-sacrifice."
~Vogler, The Writer's Journey
For those of you who don't already know this, my husband is a fireman. He recently completed air attack training and now works out of an airbase. He flies in the second seat of a small plane, mapping out the fire, directing the tankers where to drop their retardant and guiding ground crews on the best way to approach and fight the fire.
It's always made me nervous. I wasn't thrilled with the idea from the first time he mentioned his desire to go that direction in his career. But I rarely deny him anything, and in return he supports my many and varied endeavors.
Recently, one of his fellow fire fighters told me, "He's probably safer in the air than he is on the ground."
This put a new perspective on my husband's job and gave me something to hold onto this last year while he spent hundreds of hours in the air.
But today my husband called me from a union meeting to tell me another air attack plane had crashed just a few counties away. He didn't want me hearing it anywhere else.
News travels fast in an organization like CDF (California Department of Forestry) where everyone is interconnected by work, union, friends or family. And even though the accident had occurred just hours before, he already had the identity of both pilot and firefighter manning the plane. He knew them both. The firefighter had been in the same training class as my husband.
He called back a few hours later to tell me they had found both bodies, both men declared dead, the plane consumed by fire.
Then he told me the almighty "they" were sending him to the site as part of an accident investigation team.
I didn't think that was a good idea. He flies in the same plane. Does the same job. Knew both men. It, too easily, could have been him.
I asked if he thought he'd be okay. He gave me a non-committal hum, then a sketchy, "I'll be fine."
When I didn't respond, he attempted reassurance. "It'll be okay. I have to do it."
He didn't have to do it. The accident investigation team is made up of volunteers. Nobody would fire him if he'd said no.
After 16 years of marriage, I knew "I have to do it" translated into his need to find an answer for the men's families, an answer for himself, and, maybe most importantly, an answer for me because he's acutely aware of the fact that I have to live with this ugly possibility everyday he's in the air.
The men who died were heros. They saved lives and property by managing the fire from the air and kept their fellow firefighters safe on the ground.
Many others will now pitch in to perform their heroic work. Others who have pulled their brothers from the wreckage, have and will continue to support the families in their time of grief, and will search for the cause so these men's families will have answers. So that other families might be spared the same tragedy.
There are as many types of self-sacrifice as there are heros. Just as the villain is the hero of his own story, consider taking another look at your secondary characters from another perspective and see if there isn't a touch of hero in them as well.