If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
I am lousy at picking heroes.
When I was a kid, “Write about your Hero” was the perennial classroom topic of choice. And I would sit there, and chew my pencil, and stare at the wall, and in despair, watch every other kid writing furiously. I already knew their topics…My Uncle Dan…Joe Dimaggio…My Mother…Neil Armstrong…
Yeah, but exactly what is a hero? That was the nut I couldn’t crack.
I get that Uncle Dan always told jokes and that sports heroes have big muscles and self-deprecating grins and that everyone’s mom put up with them (who else would?) and that Neil Armstrong went to the moon. Great stuff. Incredible stuff.
But I’d bet Uncle Dan was born the class clown, sports heroes and astronauts really wanted to do what they did, and moms…well it seemed like that is a really broad (not necessarily undeserved) hero category.
I spent a lot of dimes and nickels on the exploits of comic book heroes, but other than crazy costumes, they didn’t seem much different than sports heroes to me. I went years, decades, with the guilty awareness that I was too stupid or too arrogant to find a hero.
Maybe I just had to grow up, and that apparently took a long time. But I have begun to discover that to me, the real heroes are the ones that have lives without media or clichéd attention.
My favorite writer, Rosemary Sutcliffe, was severely crippled with childhood arthritis, yet struggled to become an artist and writer. I had read all her books before I stumbled on her painful biography.
My friend gave up retirement to shoulder the cost and stress of making a predictable, normal home for her traumatized teenage grandchildren when their parents couldn’t.
A writer I follow, maintains a cheerful, bold, politically active persona in social media even though she struggles with daily life.
A teacher I work with ignores his own exhaustion to almost nightly help with troubled teens.
My heroes are utterly unpaid – no money, public attention, or the guarantee of success. They don’t even look for it. Each is a quiet, flawed person who struggles, yet puts aside personal needs, pain, and exhaustion to simply do what is right and good.
When I grow up, I want to be like them. They are my heroes.