Heroes are so many. You look unthinkingly a crowd, and your glance will meet many of them - people who act, sometimes quietly, some other time silently even.
And sometimes, you have the great, unexpected luck of meeting some of them, just in the right moment their quiet act of heroism happen.
Of the women heroes I've had the luck of meeting, I want to celebrate Mary Ann (let me use this name - I've not have had the opportunity of informing her of this note, so I apologize in advance and use this name; the name is fictional, but the story is not).
It was the early Seventies. The place: the working-class neighborhood of Baggio, Milan. A place and time so like many others in the World: anonymous, built without love just to arrange a lot of people in the minimum volume.
Just the outskirts.
A place of diffuse, endemic violence. Drug abuse. Alcoholism.
There, Mary Ann worked as a teacher. I met her on the first year of secondary school.
For two years I enjoyed her lessons and, sometimes, her tales. She was a Sicilian, of Norman ancestry. And told us of her beautiful, dreamy homeland in Sicily. Of France. Of the Chanson de Roland. Her words disclosed to me a world I did not imagine to even exist, of the ancient Greece, of myth, of hard lifes.
This may be heroism in itself, in a sense. But I've in mind a more specific episode in which she was protagonist.
On a day, a child of another class entered ours with a gun (a toy gun, I suppose, but am not completely sure - it was realistic enough to pass for true, if it wasn't). He began bullying us while exhibiting his toy just while Mary Ann entered the classroom.
She took him nonchalantly the weapon, and showed us the figure depicted on its butt, a half-vested pin-up.
With unmistakable rage, she told us all, "You see? This picture shows a woman. A thing in reality."
A thing. Over which (not "whom", just "which") someone exerts power, and lust.
A sick way of conceiving "other people".
Then she gave back the gun to the bully, now returned a child, about to cry.
We didn't forget.
This is a tale of when teachers were also "educators". So many still are. Of passionate people who, sometimes quietly, some other time taking a stand, helped weaving the thread which helped a plurality of people coming from everywhere not losing the sense of community. Of good and evil.
After that episode, nothing "big" happened. But we enjoyed more of her beautiful stories, and lessons.
Sometimes, thirty-nine years later, I happen to wonder whether I've retained something of her, in addition to her habit (now mine) to "thank in advance". Hope so, really.
Quiet act of heroism, I see, outlive who made them, and pass over.
They give form, and meaning too.