Friday, November 19, 2010

Life and Personal Heroes

(News-Herald, November 18) Every year at this time I invite you to recognize your own personal heroes.
We ought to do it more than once a year, and it’s hard to see why we don’t. We complain that the news is all bad, that we ought to look on the bright side, but we miss the chance help solve the problem even in a small way.
Our biggest problem is that we insist our heroes be perfect. We are so insistent that we often fall for people who give us a bright glossy lie and step right past people who present a messy truth.
Yet when someone dies, we can suddenly see right past the less admirable parts to praise those qualities that we always loved and which we now must ever after miss. So every year I come back here to suggest that tell your heroes how much you value them at some place better than their graveside. If you can do it then, you can do it now.
In the past few weeks, I’ve heard numerous versions of the old “Life is _____.” Life is teaching. Life is football. Life is Frisbee. Life is a good peanut butter sandwich.
Well, life isn’t any of those things. It’s human of us to think so. We see people whose life is in their great driving passion, be it rugby, rap or rapelling, and we decide that if we just followed that discipline, we would discover that same great passion for life.
This is backwards. Life is energy, excitement, passion, power, focus, love and endless growth. But not a one of those things can exist in itself.
Life is like a billow of smoke, without shape or direction unless contained and directed somehow. Our pursuits, sports, arts, and vocations are the vessels into which we pour all the heart and passion that is a life. Life is our breath; our pursuits are balloons.
Some lucky people find the container that fits them best. Some are more suited to one form than another (Few things give me the zing of fatherhood or making music). The biggest mistake is to assume that our own form is the only form (as in “The only way a person can feel truly alive is through basketweaving—everything is just a waste of time.”)
My heroes include people who have taken this to the next level, people who have figured out that they can inject that same fire and drive and life and growth into whatever they do.
Take Al Shilling for instance. I have to believe there aren’t many people whose resumes include wrestling coach, phys ed teacher, and a long stint in musical theater. But there’s Al, whose successes span all three arenas.
I’ve known Al for years, watched him as a teacher, a coach, an advisor, a director, a performer, a father/husband/grandfather, doing it all with a drive and energy that is always admirable. It’s a life that never stops to wave and call attention to itself, but which simply keeps moving forward.
I associate that same sort of energy with my own parents. My folks are many things, but probably not the people who light up the room when they walk in. Yet they have devoted themselves to numerous projects over the year, treating each one like an important labor of love.
These are people who inject life into all that they do. They treat each project like it matters and each commitment like one that they’re serious about. And for that reason, they are heroes of mine.
We all know people like this, people whose energy and devotion we admire, whose life displays great focus and intent. They do everything like they really mean it. They don’t wait for activities to inspire them; they bring their inspiration to all that they do. They aren’t trying to get a life; they’re making one.
These are easy people to take for granted, which brings us to your homework. Take out some paper and an envelope, then write and send a note to one of your heroes. Don’t hedge or waffle—simply write “You are my hero because…” and add a few lines. Then send it.
People who put so much devotion and energy out into the world deserve to get a little something back. Don’t wait until your heroes are perfect (it will never happen) or dead (it will happen all too soon). Write a letter to your hero this weekend.

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