My father attended the funeral of a life-long friend a week ago. He shared a few thoughts with me about things that were said, feelings that were felt. I could tell that it was a good experience for him, one where those who loved a great man gathered to celebrate the life he shared.
I think there is a point in life when we stop being devastated by the death of a loved one, and can start to see the gratitude for a life well lived. I’m sure it happens at different points for different people. There are probably many different reasons people do and don’t make this transition. A lot would have to do with where they are in life themselves. It may be hard to celebrate the good life of another if we aren’t feeling that great about our own.
It is at times like this that we look around and find others who we think are probably doing it right. Or at least, better than we are doing it. We watch for little things they do and we begin to compare our accomplishments to theirs. In a way, they become a hero.
What makes a hero?
We tend to throw that word around a lot in society today.
People who sacrifice for others are generally awarded the title. The military is getting more and more respect, deservedly so, as they continue to fight seemingly endless battles on many different fronts. Is a hero a soldier?
People who have worked incredibly hard to become the very best at something also are referred to as heroes. Just having finished the Olympic games brings many quickly to mind. Is a hero a winning athlete?
We also saw several stories of athletes who had not won in the Olympics, but were incredibly gracious in the way they handled defeat (if we could really consider anything any of them had done a defeat – great Scott, I know that I could never come close to the last person to cross the line, much less the first!). So, is a gracious loser a hero?
The truth is that there are most certainly soldiers, winners, and losers who are heroes.
The truth is also that there are most likely soldiers, winners, and losers who are not heroes.
What then makes someone a hero? What would the real definition be?
In remembering experiences with this friend who had died, my father shared a time many years ago that he was being interviewed by this same man on the radio. It was one of the interactions that had helped build their friendship.
During the interview the man asked my dad who his heroes were. My dad said that he gave a quick, off the cuff response that was something like this:
“My heroes are those who do the best they can with whatever life hands them. My heroes are those who manage to build on the good stuff that their parents contributed while rejecting the bad. My heroes are those who rise above both genetics and environment.”
Actually, I think that is a pretty great definition. Imagine what he would have said if he had been given some time to think!
In looking at this definition, it makes me wonder if the heroes who make the biggest difference in our lives are the ones that we know both the good and the bad about. We know what they overcame. We know the choices they made in love and respect for those who came before. We know about how they became more than the sum total of their experiences.
Our real heroes are people close around us. Our real heroes are people we know.
So, how does this happen? Unlike some of the other heroes we have thought about, there aren’t television commercials or newspaper articles or big pictures in magazines about what our family and neighbors are doing. How do we come to know some of these deep and personal details in the lives of these quiet heroes?
We actually have to interact with each other.
It’s a pretty safe bet that none of us live a “Mayberry” kind of life where we sit and fan ourselves on the porch at night listening to someone play the guitar, or walk the several blocks to work and back home for lunch each day, or even stop in the barber shop to catch up on the latest happenings.
But isn’t there somewhere in between that and working 14-hour days, rushing to each child’s soccer game and dance recital, and tackling the never-ending list of things that absolutely must be done?
I will admit that I am one of the worst at this. Not that I am jetting off to make presentations or meeting with board members to make the big and important decisions. Not even close.
But I have found security in a little world with little outside interaction. Ann calls it my little box. As long as life is lived in that little box, it remains manageable and relatively calm.
So, as with all things where I think a change needs to be made, I must start with myself and go from there.
Recently we accepted the invitation to actually go over to the home of some very dear friends and just spend some time with them. Pretty unusual for me to not have an agenda and a plan and a time limit for such an activity.
We just went to talk.
You see, their adult daughter is fighting a horrific battle with leukemia. Because of the risk of getting sick, she has been pretty much homebound since returning from months and months in a hospital room. Of course, for me, being homebound is a great reward. I do well alone.
But she was lonely. She needed to have that interaction with others to help feed her spirit and bring joy and purpose to getting out of bed each day.
So, being “good” neighbors (honestly, I don’t think we will ever be accused of being good neighbors, but one can always try to paint a more flattering picture), we went over to spend some time.
We went to just be with them. To just be.
And a hero was born.
This woman sees life more clearly and more acutely than most. We learned what she is overcoming. We saw the choices she is making in love and respect from the great lessons of her parents. We witnessed someone who is certainly more than the sum total of her experiences.
I think the true test of a hero is what comes after the impressive encounter that leaves such a mark in our memories. What happens next?
Do we sit back and just tell others about what a great person this is? Do we let it put a smile on our face each time we happen to think about them and what they are doing?
Or is there something more?
Does it cause us to take some serious reflection and evaluate how we are doing with our own “little bag of goodies” that life has handed us? Do we stop and think about the things our parents taught us that have made our lives better? Are we forgiving and forgetting those things that weren’t really so great? Are we choosing who and what we want to be, above and beyond what we may just ordinarily be?
I guess I think that a real hero is someone who helps me to change myself.
And in the process, I find another hero in my life: Me.
I can become my own hero as I work hard at changing and becoming and growing and evolving and learning and stretching and failing and trying again.
Because the bottom line is that I have to put in the work. I have to face the fear, and do it anyway. I have to keep getting up after I fall. I have to learn the self-control that comes with delaying gratification.
It happens gradually, but before I realize it, I see the person I wanted to be, or at least a glimpse of what can be. I’m stronger. I’m kinder. I’m happier.
At the same funeral my dad attended a week ago, the son stood and shared this thought that really touched my father: “Dad taught us to live after the manner of happiness”.
I sincerely believe that is the purpose of all we do here in this life. We learn how to truly be happy. Maybe the recipe for happiness is closely tied in to the recipe for being a hero.
Do the best you can with whatever life hands you.Build on the good stuff that your parents have given you and reject with forgiveness the bad.Rise above both genetics and environment to be more than the sum total of all your experiences.
And maybe, just maybe, there is someone else out there looking for a little lift, a little help in becoming.
Find a real hero to help you become your own, then help someone else become a real hero.