The news is so full of people who I wouldn't want to know. We hear of horrible things that normal every day people do to their neighbors. People seem to become more and more vicious to each other. It would be easy to lose faith in our fellow human beings. It seems as if the world needs more heroes. Heroes are all around us, we just need to look.
Heroes are all around us. They are in every neighborhood, in every walk of life and in every town. Heroes are all around us you just have to look. A little boy at a doctor's office waiting bravely for his immunization is a hero. Cashiers doing their best to stay pleasant during the Christmas rush are heroes too. The single mother doing whatever it takes every day to keep her children happy and healthy, is a real hero. The school bus drivers who drive our students safely to and from school are part of the heroes all around us and there are so many more.
In my fifty years I have known so many heroes. Some I have written about before, most I have not. There are four heroes that have left a profound impression on my life. These four would never consider themselves heroes but to me they are now and will be for long as I live.
When I met Ruthie she was 93 and weighed less then 90 lbs. She was one of the tiniest women I had ever met. She was a friend of my sister and quickly became mine too. She was a lady who seemed to invite a hug. I helped her doing outside chores. The more I did for her the more I wanted to do. She was always so glad for anything you did for her and so grateful. She had a delightful sense of humor. In a short time I grew to really admire her.
One day as I was having tea with her, we were having such nice visit and she smiled. Her smile lit up the room and I thought that 70 years ago she must have been gorgeous. She asked me if she could tell me her story. I gladly told her to tell me.
She began by telling me that she grew up at the end of a rail line in South Dakota. She was the eldest of two girls. Her sister was born with mental challenges and was always a little girl. After her father died when she was about 23, her mother moved the family to Santa Barbara California. She told me that her mother was always pretty fragile, so taking care of her sister was about all she could do.
After her family moved to Santa Barbara, Ruthie worked for a five & dime store called Woolworth's for about a year. She told me how much fun it was but then her mother had a stroke. Her mother couldn't care for her sister even when Ruthie was at work, so Ruthie quit her job to care for her mother and her sister. After her mother died it was a little easier for her because she only had to care for her sister. Her sister died when Ruthie was seventy.
"Kevin" she said "I want you to know I had feelings like all girls do. I would have loved to have had a family and to have had a man to love me, but I was needed to take care of Mother and my sister. I am not sorry for spending my life the way I did. By taking care of my mother and sister it allowed them to live a good life. My sister was wonderful." She looked at me and then said "you know your father is a very handsome man, then she winked at me."
Ruthie is the most selfless person I have ever met. She never ever complained. When I knew her I knew there were times when she did not have enough to eat, but she never complained. Ruthie was a hero and I feel the influence of her sacrifice and her love even twenty three years after death.
Andy is an amazing man. When I met Andy a mutual friend told me that Andy is incredibly busy but never too busy not to help a friend. When I met Andy he taught college two nights a week, he worked in the finance department for a major corporation, he ran three businesses and attended church twice a week.
He is married to Edna. They are about as opposite as two people can be from each other. To look at their marriage it was hard to see how these two could stay married, even for a year. When I first knew them they had been married for twenty-five years. It wasn't that they fought, it was more that they were happiest having an argument.
About six years ago Edna was diagnosed with MS. They don't argue now. Her mobility has become increasingly more limited, causing Andy to have to do more and more for her. She reached a point where Andy had to dress and bathe her. She is now in a nursing home and Andy visits her every day.
Edna hides her feelings of frustrations to everyone but Andy. She dumps all of her fears and frustrations on Andy. He doesn't say a word to discourage her. Andy told me "Edna has a hard enough time without me making her feel worse. If yelling at me makes her feel better than she can yell." He told me "I married for life." Andy doesn't try to be a hero he just is one.
Gretchen is my sister she had a perfect life. Gretchen was and is beautiful. She is a psychiatrist. She was and is happily married to a successful lawyer. She had three beautiful children Her boys at ages 12 and 14 were handsome, active and intelligent. He daughter at age 8 was adorable. She had long curly blond hair and impish eyes. She loved everyone. She had a habit of writing love notes to everyone she knew.
When her daughter was eight the family had just returned from a two week ski trip. Everyone agreed that it was among the best experiences of their lives. This little girl went to school and at recess died from a heart attack in the arms of her teacher. At her funeral Gretchen said to me "Look at my daughter in her casket. She looks like a princess. She is perfect in every way except her heart and now her mother's heart is breaking."
Parents are suppose to outlive their children. My sister lives a nightmare. She will never forget or stop loving her daughter. Her daughter is still very much a part of her, even 24 years after her death. I have four children and the terror of what Gretchen lives with pulls on my heart. I never want to know that experience.
Some people react to personal tragedy by becoming angry, others by withdrawing from the world around them. Gretchen responded to her broken heart by helping others. She focused her practice on child psychiatry and became an active part of a suicide hot line. This is someone who became a hero through her tears.
For a little boy of eight he had more than his share of struggles. Now he was facing the second of two surgeries on his hand. This little boy was born with a small left arm and hand with fingers that were webbed. Shriner's opened the door for him to get his webbed fingers separated. Separating his fingers required two very painful surgeries.
He had lived through the first surgery and recovery a little over three months earlier. The difference between the first surgery and the second surgery, is that before the little boy went through the first surgery he did not know what to expect. Now as he was getting ready for his second surgery he knew exactly what to expect. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, his concern was how his family was doing. This little boy was and is my hero. This little boy is my son. He has grown to be a fine young man. Learning is still challenging for him but that same spirit he had when he was eight he has now at twenty.
Heroes are all around us. There are considerably more than four who influence my life. There will be considerably more than four who touch my life in the future I know. When we get discouraged and disappointed with the world around us we just have to look for the heroes. My best advice to anyone is to look for the heroes.