Friday, November 20, 2009

Heroes 2009

(News-Herald, November 19) Every year at this time, I ask you to honor one of your heroes. Not some big, grand hero that you know about from television news or a magazine, but someone who you know personally. Someone who is an actual part of your life.
We are always oddly reluctant to honor such people. Perhaps we’re just shy. Perhaps we feel awkward. Maybe our heroes also have some less-than-admirable qualities that we don’t want to be seen as approving.
There is something extra sad about people standing around a funeral home saying nice things about the deceased that they never told that departed person in life. The one thing sadder I can think of would be someone who died before he ever told the people he honored how much he admired and valued them.
But as a people we find it all too easy to criticize, complain and carp while never quite getting around to the more positive words. We leave people to stumble forward blind and alone, never knowing how much they mean to many of the people around them.
So let’s do it. Once a year, minimum, let’s tell them that they are our heroes. Even if they are people that we are already close to.
My children have become heroes of mine. They are certainly far braver than I was at their age. They have carted themselves to the other side of the continent to pursue their biggest dreams and aspiration. They have sacrificed much of the comfortable and familiar to pursue the fields that they are passionate about.
But it’s not just that courage that I admire. They have continued to show courage and strength in their personal lives, been smart about who to let in and brave about holding to those people, even when holding on was a challenge of one sort or another.
Because they are my children, I love them. But for all these other things, they are heroes of mine.
So are my parents. They got married when my father was in college—who does that? Surely someone must have tried to talk sense into them. Then ten years later they packed up three children and moved a day’s drive from their home and families to Pennsylvania, which also could not have been easy (my sister was only three at the time).
Not that this is a scary, awful place, or a hard place to settle in and make a home. But they had no way of knowing that when they headed down here.
I’m not talking about extraordinary leaps of unheard-of daring. People do similar things, take similar leaps every day. But people also shrink from doing similar things every day.
People who take the leap will tell you they didn’t have much choice, that once they knew what they wanted, they had to deal with the obstacles. Once you’ve decided to eat the banana, you have to deal with the peel.
But lots of folks find it hard to summon that courage. When they see what they have to do, they draw back and say, “But I don’t wanna.” It’s a story as old as Moses saying, “Go pick somebody else for this.”
So among my heroes are people like my children and my parents who find the nerve to go where there passions direct them, who summon the kind of courage which is ordinary in its application, but rare in appearance. My heroes are the people who do what they have to do, even if it is hard or inconvenient, even if, as is almost always the case, they have to take the leap not knowing for certain where they will land.
It’s a quality I admire because, at critical junctures in my life, I have lacked it. Every big mistake I’ve made in my life I’ve made because I lost my nerve, and so many of my heroes are the people who didn’t.
You may choose your own admired heroic qualities for your own personal reasons. The point is, if you want a world where these qualities flourish, you need to honor them when they appear.
So send a note—something real and physical that your hero can hold and save—and let him or her know. Doesn’t have to be fancy. You can start with “You are a hero of mine because…” and send. Do it now, this week, and enter the season of decorating knowing that you added a little point of light to the world.

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