Hero Worship

I don't use the term 'hero' often and I don't have an awful lot of personal heroes - in fact, I think it might take me it some time to come up with even a small list. But last week, when I rooted around on the new 7-day releases at my video store (where you can rent three old releases for the price of two new ones and I'm cheap enough to like that), two of the ones that made it home with me turned out to be about two men who I definitely consider personal heroes. And I only knew about one of them.

Shake Hands With the Devil. When Romeo Dallaire's book about the Rwandan genocide came out, I couldn’t find in audio, which upset me, because I believe there are certain things you must read, must watch, to which you must bear witness. I believe we must do this so that when it happens again, we will be among the people who stand up and say no, who are part of the voices that speak against it. It is the only way to lend validity and weight to the phrase "never again" because those two words are thrown around a lot, but genocide happened again in Rwanda when the world looked away and quibbled over terminology. I bought the documentary when it came out and it is harrowing to watch, to see on Romeo Dallaire’s face the scars scored into a person’s face and soul that happen when you watch 100 days of unspeakable horror and are helpless to act. I watched the movie and it is good, it rings true, there seems to be no rewriting of history and Roy Dupuis embodies Dallaire's soul. Made me realize all over again that despite what happened in Rwanda, despite the book, the documentary and the movie, Romeo Dallaire is a living reminder of what the world didn't do. He bears our scars for us because we wouldn’t look in Rwanda and we’re not looking in Darfur or any of the other places where "never again" is happening all over again. And that's why he's one of my heroes.

Music Within. Janne and John had recommended this movie to me a while back, but as mentioned above, I'm cheap, so it took a while for me to get there. And once I did, I realized that I want to own this movie. Music Within it is the story of Richard Pimentel, a young man who went to Vietnam and lost most of his hearing there. When he came home, he went to college, made friends with with a man named Art who had severe CP (late edit: Cerebral Palsy) and one night, when they went out for pancakes, they were refused service because Art looked too weird and might make the other patrons lose their appetite. The two refused to leave and were removed by the cops, who charged them under what was called an "ugly law", according to which, people who might be termed freaks were not allowed to be around normal people. It was this moment of what Pimentel terms disability apartheid -and how could it be called anything else - that set him off on a journey to break down barriers and make sure that no one with disabilities would ever be refused service again. And after years of working on this, the Americans with Disabilities Act passed into law and it is a model that I wish more countries would follow. The movie is fantastic - tight, incredibly funny in one moment and makes your heart ache in the next. When you get it - because you are going to get it, right? - watch the special features. One of them is composed of parts of Richard Pimental’s speech on the process and he is a brilliant speaker who I would love to hear in real life. And then watch the "making of" feature, in which the actors who play Richard and Art talk about discovering that playing a person with a disability means just playing the person, not the disability. I'm pretty sure that Richard finds that as funny as I do. I didn't know it until this weekend, but Richard Pimentel is one of my heroes and he is my hero because, in the words of Art after his friend asks him to read the draft document: "You know what we cripples watch besides getting laid? To be seen. When they look at me out there now, you know what they see? Nothing. I'm ignored … [T]hey ignore me, because I am so disturbing to their definition of human that it makes them feel. I love that. What you've created will help to make them see us."

Who are your heroes?