There is a word for people whose life is defined by a memorable, courageous act.
They call them heroes.
The heroes, of course, know better. They live in their own skin and have felt the loneliness of their choice. Heroes by nature find their defining moment by themselves.
It’s lonely work. When their deed bears fruit, the hero rides on the shoulders of his admirers but he knows better. His moment of greatness did not make him. It was the greatness of the moments before.
They will mourn Brendan Burke today as a hero, a young man who was never cowed by the spectre of his famously brusque Dad and it’s only partially true.
Brendan’s courage was in saying who he was. It took no courage for Brian to love and accept his son. Anyone who says it does knows nothing of love.
And that’s what was lost on an Indiana highway, the love of a gregarious, fun-loving kid who when confronted with ignorance just did the right thing. In doing so, he showed how far and how close we are to our better selves.
We call people heroes not because we want to emulate them, but because we want the easy way. We exalt them because we don’t want to measure up. To follow in their well-beaten path is easier. And so we call people the new Jackie Robinson, the new Terry Fox, even though there can be no new ones.
When Michael Jackson, one of the most reviled and revered entertainers in the history of modern media died, his children did not speak of a hero. They spoke of a lost father. They knew better than the rest.
And so we speak of a son and a brother and a friend, the immeasurable pain of a family and the loss of someone who not only did a brave thing, but did it, initially alone. He did it for all the other lonely ones. And we mourn for the family that produced such a child. For the truth is, while heroes are handy, what we need most are more Brendans.Messages of condolence to the Burke family can be posted on the Maple Leafs Facebook page or sent to the Maple Leafs Twitter account. We will make sure they get to the family.