This week, news of the death of peace campaigner Brian Haw brought to mind just how complex and fragile the concept of hero is. Haw, a rugged old Henry Fonda- lookalike, first came into the public arena by staging a protest against the Iraq sanctions outside the Houses of Parliament. The protest gathered momentum as the war progressed, with Haw’s own army of supporters lending a hand from the sidelines. This week, following treatment for lung cancer (a result of his smoking habit), Haw has died and so the space he used to occupy to air his political views has now turned into a makeshift memorial to someone who badly wanted to make a difference.
There is a Penelope in the story, too. Haw had a large family at home, children and a wife who divorced him two years into his protest. Like the Greeks noted, it can be very lonely to wait for the hero’s return, trying to get on with your life. Yet at the same time, in a society where there is no shortage of fake celebrities like Katie Price or the Only Way is Essex crew), there is a huge void for heroes. And here’s someone who stood with integrity by his ideals. Perhaps he didn’t choose to put them into practice the same way we would, but for his beliefs and pacifist attitude, I salute him.
Heroes of the future, wherever you are, we cannot wait to meet you.