Damaged Goods

Published online: Nov 11, 2020 Below the Surface Tyrell Marchant, editor
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This column appears in the November 2019 issue of Potato Grower.

Just over a century ago, on Nov. 11, 1919, Woodrow Wilson, president of the United States of America, proclaimed a new national holiday. On the one-year anniversary of the ratification of the armistice that ended World War I (famously put into effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month), Americans joined in honoring and thanking those who had served and suffered in their behalf.

On that day 101 years ago, President Wilson issued a brief but profound statement to his “fellow-countrymen” that included this gem:

“…the victory of arms foretells the enduring conquests which can be made in peace when nations act justly and in furtherance of the common interests of men. To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice…”

Absolutely beautiful stuff.

Today, Armistice Day is officially known as Veterans Day, honoring all of America’s heroes, those who have come home, those who never got the chance, and those still missing their sweethearts and parents. As you recover from another harvest and make your preparations for The Holidays—Thanksgiving, Christmas and, sure, New Year’s—don’t forget, on Nov. 11, to observe this “minor” holiday, even if it just means a moment of silent prayer of gratitude for everyone who has done what you didn’t have to.  

I recently had the privilege of hearing a portion of one soldier’s letter home. Though it wasn’t addressed to me, the thoughts of this one scared American farm kid stuck in the Iraqi desert rang about as true to me as any I’ve ever heard. He wrote about how much he missed his family and about the abject terror he sometimes felt at the weight of everything he was expected to do. He wrote that he wished he could be like the superheroes in the comic books he loved to read: strong and decisive and impervious to evil.

The letter went on, and I could almost see the wheels in the baby-faced private’s head turning as he came to a defining revelation. “I guess the best superheroes are the ones who aren’t perfect,” he wrote, “the ones with weaknesses you can see. That’s what makes them real. There’s nothing heroic if there’s nothing to lose.”

It’s true. The Hulk has a temper he can’t control. Spider-Man is just an acne-fighting teenager who can barely talk to a cute girl. Iron Man is an egomaniac with a flimsy piece of wire keeping his heart beating.

Achilles, the original ultimate warrior, had a stupid little trick heel. George Bailey was tied down to the Building & Loan. Woody was consumed with jealousy when Buzz Lightyear moved in.

The phenomenon is, of course, true of real-life heroes as well: Ben Franklin was an infamous womanizer. Abe Lincoln struggled mightily with a deep depression. George Patton was almost artfully profane. Winston Churchill drank like a fish, smoked like a train, and steadfastly refused to ever believe he was wrong.

Yet, somehow, we still consider these people heroes. The people we aspire to be are people we know and understand best, and you can’t really know and understand someone without knowing and understanding their frailties and shortcomings, their foibles and blemishes. You simply can’t be a hero without overcoming something internal as well as external. Luckily—if you choose to see it that way—the world is full of people who are full of internal problems, all of them potential heroes.

Your hero may not be a soldier or Marine or anyone who thinks they’ve done anything particularly notable. Maybe it’s a dad who, despite a short fuse and poor planning skills, never missed a ballgame or piano recital or 4-H exhibit—all while miraculously holding the family farm together. Maybe it’s a mom who, more often than not, still hasn’t managed to shower or get makeup on before the kids get home from school, yet is the best navigator of algebra and middle-school drama in the world. Maybe it’s an uncle who takes himself too seriously; a neighbor who craves gossip; a self-righteous, know-it-all sister. 

No matter who comes to mind when you hear the word “hero,” chances are it’s someone who has, at some point, made some sort of sacrifice for you. And chances are that, for someone, you yourself are the knight in shining armor. You might have gained that status by being a cool and collected beacon that kept harvest running smoothly when a combine and two trucks broke down within five minutes of each other, or by simply shutting up and letting someone’s tears soak your shoulder for a minute.

Regardless, it’s not a title to be taken lightly.

Here’s to the heroes everywhere.