John Daly: 'How to find the true meaning of heroism on the school run'
There isn't much to praise about November - dark evenings, stormy weather and the social Siberia that traditionally marks this quiet period before the Christmas madness. Other than my own birthday and the annual publication of the latest Jack Reacher novel, there's little reason for handstands in the garden anywhere this month.
Author Lee Child first conceived Reacher back in 1997, a creation still going strong 27 books later. An ex-US army military policeman, he is the ultimate loner, criss-crossing America on Greyhound buses, stopping wherever the mood takes him, carrying only a toothbrush and comb. Mixing touches of tough-guy Philip Marlowe and altruistic cowboy Shane, Reacher is the intrinsically aloof warrior, always boarding the next bus into the sunset when his work is done. Stan Lee, the creator of many a Marvel comic hero who died last week, put it best in perspective: "Wondering what will come next for the hero is a pleasure that has lasted for centuries and will always be with us."
The latest Reacher book was sitting on top of my gym bag when the youngster spotted it. "So what is a hero exactly?" he asked, scanning the cover's advertising blurb. I thought a bit about the answer, as you tend to do with 10-year-olds, knowing the response would likely be repeated at home and might well affect my social standing on mom and dad's dinner party list. I said heroes are mostly ordinary individuals who find the strength to persevere in spite of overwhelming obstacles.
You could almost hear his brain tumblers clicking from the front seat as the kid searched for another question to perplex me with. But it was his 11-year-old sister who got in first: "But heroes in real life aren't like books or TV, though, are they?" Here I am doing a school run as a neighbourly good deed and the interrogation is trickier than Monday morning traffic. And that's when I thought of Maurice McCabe.
Crawling in the gridlock, I gave them a five-minute primer on the man who made 'whistleblower' one of the most familiar Irish terms of the last five years, and the high price he paid for doing the right thing. "Would you have kept going like he did?" asked the sister eventually, a canny creature definitely destined for the law. I'd like to think so, I told her, but probably wouldn't have had the guts. That's why I read Jack Reacher books, it's the closest I'll ever come to being a hero.
We finally made the school gates with a minute to spare, and they hopped out carrying their weighty bags on their own journeys along this complex road called life. Later on I came across an Arthur Ashe quote I wished had been on my tongue that morning: "True heroism is remarkably sober. It is not the urge to surpass all others at all cost, but the urge to serve others, at whatever cost."