Smart Family Is the Epitome of Heroism

By Jim Bergstedt

I have been thinking a lot about the word “hero” lately. No, not the slang term defined by the second edition of the American Heritage Dictionary: “a large sandwich consisting of a roll that is split lengthwise and contains a variety of fillings, as lettuce, tomatoes, onions, meats and cheese.”

I like that definition, but I am referring to the following meaning of a hero or heroine: “a man or woman noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life.” A hero or heroine may also be defined as one noted for his or her special achievements in a particular field, such as the field of medicine.

I believe we are too quick to confer the label of hero or heroine upon certain individuals. I recently met a Swiss student who worked on his master’s thesis here at the U. We became friends, and frequently discussed current events, including the tragic explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia and the loss of the STS-107 Crew on February 1.

He, like the rest of us, was saddened by what took place. But he questioned how many, especially the media, were quick to label the seven astronauts “heroes” and “heroines.” They loved what they did–for them, he said, their journey into space was not a sacrifice. Although their findings would have provided more information in the expanding field of space exploration, they were simultaneously following their passion, and in a sense, were no different from Michael Jordan pursuing his dream on the basketball court or Tiger Woods on the golf course.

He makes a valid point. All too often, in the wake of a tragedy, we assign labels to victims and perpetrators alike without stepping back from the scene, surveying what has taken place, and then giving credit where credit is due or assigning the blame or fault where it is due.

I liked President Bush’s approach to defining the mission and lives of the victims of the explosion. He spoke at a memorial service on Feb. 4 in honor of the Columbia crew. He avoided trivializing his remarks and his tribute to the astronauts by refusing to simply classify them as heroes and heroines. He did, however, make reference to the “seven lives of great purpose and achievement” who “had the daring and discipline required of their calling.”

I have also wondered, since the news broke of Elizabeth Smart’s reunification with her family nearly two weeks ago, who the real heroes and heroines are in this story.

Reporters have appropriately given credit to the two couples who identified Brian David Mitchell and immediately notified the police of his whereabouts. But are they heroes or were they simply fulfilling their duty and obligation as concerned citizens? The same may be said for the police force and the FBI, both of which worked tirelessly, especially in the beginning months of the case, to see to it that Elizabeth was found and safely returned to her family. Were these acts of heroism or were they simply instances of people doing their jobs?

In my mind, the true heroes and heroines in the Smart saga are the members of the Smart family, and each for different reasons. Ed and Lois Smart are respectively a hero and heroine because they did not waiver in their faith and determination to find their daughter. While most people doubted whether or not Elizabeth was still alive and if she would ever be found, the Smarts were stoic and constant and devout at a time when most of us assumed that she was missing and that nothing more could be done to find her.

Moreover, they showed no apparent signs of malice or hostility toward Mitchell and his wife Wanda Barzee in interviews following their arrest. Rather, they expressed gratitude to God for hearing and answering countless prayers, and credit was given to the many who prayed for them and their daughter and who worked so tirelessly to find her. Any anger or frustration they felt was directed toward ensuring that the Amber Alert is established nation wide so that more children might be found, especially in the crucial hours and days following the abduction of a child.

Mary Catherine is a heroine. It was her determined belief that Mitchell was the culprit–not Richard Ricci–who moved her father to action, to get Mitchell’s name and face out in the open and to continue the investigation which began to lack momentum and hope for a positive outcome. She was courageous and strong at a time when it would have been easy to doubt herself and her actions the morning of her sister’s abduction.

I see Elizabeth as the main heroine of her own tragic story, because she courageously carried on and endured untold hardships, the horror of which will remain foreign to most of us, but will forever be etched in her mind. She will become an even greater heroine as she continues to carry on and face the future with even greater faith and determination to put this behind her and to move on with her life.

We can learn much from those, like the Smart family, who endure trials with unwavering faith and a positive attitude and show gratitude for any blessing that comes their way.

In my mind, these are the true heroes and heroines–people who carry on in the face of adversity when others may falter.

Jim welcomes feedback at [email protected] Send letters to the editor to [email protected]