TITLE: A Real Hero
By Arlene Showalter
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My arm stops mid-swing. My buddy, Jason, and I are playing catch in the yard. I pretend not to hear my mom’s call.
“Alex! It’s time to see Grandpa.”
“Yeah,” I mumble. Why do we have to go anyway? I think to myself. I hate that place, and besides Grandpa won’t even know we came.
“Sorry Jason. Gotta go. It’s my grandpa’s birthday and Mom’s making me go visit him.”
Mom meets me at the door, frowning. “You know it’s time to go, why aren’t you ready?”
“Aw, Mom. Why do we have to go there? It stinks and the people give me the creeps.”
“Alex, I’m ashamed of you. Those people don’t want to be there any more than you, but they have no choice. You need to realize they are human beings too, with feelings just like yourself. Show some compassion.”
I shut my mouth to keep Mom from going into one of her boring lectures about treating others as I want to be treated.
Arriving at the nursing home, I try to avert my eyes. Some residents are okay, but others stare vacantly from wheelchairs. Some drool and others mumble to themselves. How I hate coming to this freak house.
I shove my hands deep into my hip pockets and slouch after my mom. Her father has been here for as long as I can remember. Mom says he has a disease with a strange name. That means he doesn’t know anybody any more, including his own daughter. He’s one of those residents who sit in a wheelchair with a blank stare.
Mom locates Grandpa sitting in the hallway. She rolls him back to his room and settles on his bed for a visit. I stand in the doorway wishing to be anywhere else, maybe even school.
“Excuse me, Son. How are you?”
Surprised, I look up. A tall old man smiles down at me. His one arm dangles at his side. Bright splotches cover face and hands.
“How are you?” He repeats. “I’m new here and don’t recall seeing you before. Is Mr. Davis your grandpa? I’m his new roommate.”
Embarrassed, I kick at the door jamb and mumble.
“Mr. Johnson. His handshake is surprisingly firm. “Come on in and let’s visit.”
Can’t he see my obvious disgust for this place? With no easy way out, I follow him into the room. Mom is talking to Grandpa like he understands. Yeah, right, I almost snort.
The stranger sits in his easy chair and pats the bed beside him.
“Have a seat.”
We talk for a little while, him asking all the usual boring questions, how are you, how old are you, what is your favorite subject in school and all that stupid stuff. My attention wanders as I fake interest.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Johnson. I have your meds here.” The altogether too cheery nurse bustles into the room holding a tiny cup full of pills. “Oh, you have a visitor. How nice! Hi, young man. How does it feel to talk to a hero?”
The nurse points to the wall. There hangs a framed newspaper article. The headline reads Chief of Police risks life to save baby.
My unwelcome new friend sees me looking at the clipping, and struggles to get out of his chair. He lifts the article from the wall to hand it to me.
He had come upon a three car pile up that had just occurred moments before. The middle car was already in flames. A young woman jumped up and down screaming next to the back window.
“My baby’s in there. My baby’s in there!”
With no thought to his own safety, Mr. Johnson snatched the crowbar from his trunk, and smashed the window. He reached through the flames to release the girl from her car seat. His hands and face were burned in the rescue.
Silently we sit, me holding the framed article, he patiently waiting for the usual questions. I don’t move. I can’t speak. I realize this old man is a real hero, not a movie hero like Spiderman. But more importantly, I see him as a real human being who had once been young and strong. And he had been the Chief of Police! Wow!
Suddenly, I understand that all the people in this place had once been just like me. Even if they are now like my Grandpa who doesn’t know who he is any longer. Each resident is a real person, part of God’s creation and worthy of respect.
Quietly I rise to my feet and offer my hand to Mr. Johnson. It is my first opportunity to shake hands with a real hero. Then I cross the small room to hug Grandpa, hard. To my surprise he hugs me back. Way cool!
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