When you were a child, who was your favorite hero? I will never forget mine. I watched it every afternoon it was on TV. Some of you may remember the opening sequence which began with images and a narrator saying:
"Faster than a speeding bullet; more powerful than a locomotive; able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird, it's a plane, it's---Superman! Yes, Superman, strange visitor from a dying world who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman, who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American Way."
Superman was my hero when I was 10 years old because he could do all those things that I couldn't for that year in my life. I had contracted polio at the end of my Fourth Grade term and was unable to use my legs for almost a full year.---paralyzed from the waist down.
During those many months, Dr.Francis came to our house 2-3 times a week (at no charge to my parents) testing for any improvement. He also manipulated my legs so that there would be minimal atrophy. Eventually I recovered. I remember my Mom and Dad crying tears of joy at this turn of events. Dr. Francis became our hero.
After I began learning to walk again, my Dad took me with him on Saturdays when he played golf. The first time we went, he introduced me to the stunning beauty of the sunrise, the dew that pulled my socks down into donuts around my ankles, and the magnificent scent of the fresh cut grass at dawn. It was just my Dad and me together for several wonderful hours.
I showed an avid interest in the game so my Dad taught me the game,rules, virtues and ethics of golf. When he died on an Easter Sunday, many years later, I would have a simple epitaph on his marker at the cemetery. It simply said, "First Place", not only for his golf ability, but more so because he raised my brother Mike and me not only with respect and discipline, but also with unquestionable love for both of us. My Dad became my hero.
Dad died seven years after breaking his back in a tree-trimming accident. He never walked again---paralyzed from his waist down just like his son so many years before. During those last years of his life, Mom cared for him. I was able to help her help him, and we spent more precious time together. But now I had a new hero to add to my growing list---Mom.
Ironically, I cared for Mom for the last seven years of her life until she fell, shattered her shoulder and then succumbed 10 days later from anesthetic shock. She died in my arms at Christmas. She was still my hero even though she had lost her grace, identity and dignity during those last days and hours. Even so, on her marker, beside her husband, I placed the words, "First Class", because she was always that.
Through all these "adventures", I finally realized that genuine heroes don't fly around in the sky with a red cape, faster than a speeding bullet. Nor are they "more powerful than a locomotive". Heroes are those among us who are simply ordinary people performing extraordinary deeds for the sake of others.
Heroes include those who simply sit with someone when they are lonely, and offer comfort, share tears and perhaps laughter, and prayers.
Heroes are those who care for a parent with Advanced Alzheimer's Disease. In fact, these, in my opinion, are the greatest heroes because of the constant heartache they must endure with one who has been such a vital part of their life. Helpless to ease the condition, they nevertheless care deeply and often for a failing loved one, with no rescue available. They receive no accolades (nor would they want any) or even acknowledgement from their loved one trapped in a living nightmare. And the nightmare becomes one for the caregiver as well.
The "heroes" in my early life were those in my own minuscule cinematic universe. As I matured my world grew larger and with that the discovery of real-life heroes already around me.
Where have all the heroes gone? Nowhere. They've been with us all along. We simply did not recognize them because they look just like us.
Long ago I deleted the name of "Superman" from my list of heroes and began writing in my heart the names and moments when I observed true heroism manifested in the form of a servant's service. Everyday the list grows longer...