In my highschool back in Cagayan de Oro, there is an award called the Xavier Award. The Xavier Award is given to someone who is able to embody in himself the values that Xavier University High School (also known as Ateneo de Cagayan) stands for.

The Award is introduced this way: “If the school finds a graduating student worthy, and they are convinced that the student embodies in his person the ideals Xavier University High School- Ateneo de Cagayan holds dear, they may decide to give the Xavier Award that year.”

The values include: generosity, Christ-like service, excellence in academics, leadership, etc. Because of that criteria, the Xavier Award wasn’t given for 13 years.

That is, until my fourth year when the school decided to give it to our valedictorian and my friend. But a prophet is never really accepted in his own land and among his own people. Because while everyone else was praising Mark (that was my friend’s name) to high heavens, we, his barkada did not want him to receive the award. The problem was that we knew him too much. And because we knew him too much we did not want the Xavier Award to be “tainted” with his receiving it. I, in my idealistic highschool mode, felt he didn’t deserve the award- or that the award was too lofty for this beer-gulping, mall-going, movie-freak (sorry Mark!) to receive. Well he was brilliant. And he was such a good albeit quiet leader, but that didn’t matter. This was THE Xavier Award! Nobody got it for 13 years!

I did not realize heroes can be human too.

Now I know better.

Now, I know that heroes are flesh and blood. Like you and me. Now I know that heroes have to be flesh and blood so that people can emulate them and follow their examples.

I remember Ninoy Aquino, for example: braver than brave, of the highest principles, and stood up against the Marcos regime. But he was human too: he went through cold and very lonely nights, doubts about his faith; and he needed to be converted from his ambitious streak and vanity. We always think that heroes are disembodied spirits– only to find a Ninoy pining for lost love and asking God for just 30 minutes of time with loved ones.

Heroes are seen as miniature gods; and then we find Ninoy in a small box counting the days and nights with nail marks on the wall. Heroes are mythical figures; then we find Ninoy writing to his son an apology for not being present as a father. He was a hero. But he was human. Nay, he is a hero even more so because he is human.

I was very young when Ninoy died, but I remembered my mom crying as that familiar image of a man sprawled on the tarmac of the airport was shown on television. Ninoy represented hope in those desolate, hopeless times and his death was seen as the very death of hope. I was very young, but I remember the accounts of the funeral, the millions who came, the cry of “Ninoy, hindi ka nag-iisa!” (You are not alone!), and the televised investigations on Channel 9.

We only see the greatness of the hero, and the worthiness of his sacrifice and offering made more worthy by the Bloodless Revolution that followed in ‘86.

We sometimes fail to see the man. The man who went to Korea on an illegal ID because he was very young to cover the Korean War. The man who, at that time, was the youngest mayor, governor and senator probably because he was very ambitious, and he wanted to have, for himself, the highest position in the land. The man was the best President we never had. But then again, maybe he wouldn’t have turned out better than Marcos. Such is the quirk of history. We will never know.

Because we sometimes fail to see the men and women behind the heroes, we have heroes we cannot follow.

When we talk of heroes, we sometimes fail to see who these heroes really are. Indeed, it is difficult to see Rizal without the overcoat, who Gandhi is to his family, Mother Teresa doubting God, Martin Luther King behind the Dream or even the travelling Nazarene behind Jesus. When we realize the humanity of these men (or women); that they are like us in so many things, then we can either: 1) act like me in highschool and reject them, or 2) become more enamored by them for being human and heroes.

The generation of today is a generation in dire and drastic need of heroes. In a time where the internet rules supreme, and everything can be had at the click of the mouse or a remote control, we are assured by people who do not take shortcuts but work hard and live hard, and die hard. At a time when everyone thinks global, we are assured by the nationalism of these men and women who give their lives for motherland. At a time when all that teen-agers want to emulate are the anorexic girl in the billboard in EDSA, or the trash-talking basketball player in the NBA with the aerodynamic shoes, or the fashion trendsetter with the purple hair; it is comforting to find people who offer more than beauty, and shoes, and purple hair.

My friend Mark got his Xavier Award, and went on to conquer Law School. He almost made it to the Top 10 of the Bar, and is now a lawyer working in one of the top Law Firms in the country. For the younger batches of Xavier University High School, Mark became their hero–someone they put on the pedestal and talked about and idolized. For us, his friends, he remained Mark, our beer-gulping, mall-going, food-tripping, poker-loving, movie-freak friend (hi Shalum! hehe).

But he did literally become hero to me many times. Like when he took me out to free dinners during those days when I didn’t have work yet just after leaving the Jesuits. Or during those long and deep conversations over San Mig Light and sisig. Or when he asked me to call a friend who he suspected had problems. Or when he passed by my house to bring me to the hospital when I had a really high fever (he even bought me dinner when I told him I had not had any!).

Because just as heroes are made more real by their being human, heroism is also not just about dying for Motherland and great sacrifices or becoming known to the rest of the world. It also has to do with the little, private, special things that people do to us that will probably never be printed in newspapers or written about in blogs…

Except in this one. :p

About Eric Santillan

AngPeregrino is Eric Santillan. He is a management consultant for two firms specializing in sustainable business, competitiveness and risk management, cost control and culture management. He is also a writer for The Mindanao Current. At one time or another, he has taught, moderated college organizations, done organizational development work for BPOs, been a Jesuit, mentored people and given retreats.

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