Two years ago at the start of 4th grade, Claire had to identify her “hero” and write a short blurb about that person. She chose to write about me, and I wrote a blog post about how touching it was to have her do that. So when Austin finished his first day of school last Monday, I already knew what his first assignment was going to be. He needed my help, because everything is digital now. I asked him who he was going to pick as his hero.
“Grandpa Tom,” he said, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world.
I asked him why he picked Grandpa Tom, and he seemed to be at a loss for words. “Because he’s my hero!” Austin said, with conviction. I encouraged him to think of some examples, which he did.
The examples were fine (“when my dad died he came and was really helpful”) but it wasn’t that part that I loved so much. What I really loved was how Austin so easily identified Grandpa Tom as his hero without any specific reasons. He just heard the word “hero” and thought of my dad.
I think that’s how it is with heroes, really. They just are. Sure, sometimes they win big awards or are otherwise famous in some way. But a lot of heroes are unseen. My dad, of course, gets to be the star of my blog, but he doesn’t care at all about that. Over the past few years, when I’d write about my dad and tell him, “oh, people really loved the blog about you!” he’d lower the book he was reading, raise his eyebrows and say, “huh!” and then go back to reading. So even the small praise he got from me and from this blog meant very little to him.
Most heroes are too busy doing the work that they don’t have time to look for – or care about – any kind of recognition.
It’s funny, I guess, that I know a lot more heroes now than I did three years ago. I’m not just talking about the doctors and nurses I met when Shawn was in the hospital, or the hospice workers or pharmacists or counselors or therapists I met afterwards. I’m also talking about the widows I know.
Really, every single widow I’ve met over the past 2 ½ years has been a hero in some way or another. Many that I’ve met struggle with countless issues – finances and young kids and housing dramas and insurance problems and…..the list goes on. But even with these issues, the widows I know just keep going. They keep doing the work that needs to be done, facing the unknown and saying, “I will not quit.”
Because the daily stuff – the stuff that Austin really can’t remember that my dad always did when he was here, like washing the dishes and buying toothpaste and finding missing socks – that stuff matters. It matters all the time but it really matters when things are hard. Sure, if a kid falls down in front of a train and you pull him off the tracks, you’re a hero. But most days, there’s no way to easily rescue someone else, or even yourself. There’s no immediate problem to solve that makes all the other problems go away. There’s just what’s in front of you, which as a young widow is often one problem after another. It’s an endless stream of “to-do” list items that never seem to really make things better. Getting those things done doesn’t feel like heroism.
And yet, it’s those daily tasks that make people into heroes. Maybe not to the wider world, but who cares about that?
We talked to my dad via FaceTime a lot during that first week of school. The kids would get on and scream about the mini-dramas in their lives and he would nod and say, “oh, interesting!” when they told him some important detail. They wanted to show him their work spaces and their rooms, and they wanted him to hear every detail. Every time I’d get a glimpse of his face, he was smiling.
At one point, I heard Austin telling my dad that he’d picked him to be his hero. “Wow,” my dad said, “that’s really nice!”
“Yep,” Austin said, in his characteristic understatement.
That was it. No more, no less. It was fitting, I suppose. My dad devoted more than two years of his life to making sure his daughter and three grandkids stayed emotionally and physically whole.
And now he gets to be the star of a fourth grade project, which he thinks is the best thanks he could get. I guess thats the definition of real heroism.
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.