I’ll tell you right now, this one has not been easy to write. Hemingway, with whom I have a love/hate relationship, suggests writing drunk and editing sober and it’s gotten bad enough that I’ve considered his thought but I don’t drink so even Hem didn’t help this time. It’s such a crazy struggle when you know what you feel and what the story sounds like in your heart yet you can’t place the words into a readable order that makes the kind of sense you’re shooting for.
It’s hard when you’re writing about childhood friends. I come from this quiet little beach town, south of Santa Barbara, and it’s not at all a fancy town like S.B. but more of a sleepy beach town. Plain town. Small town. Growing up, there were only 8,000 people in our town with little stores called The Sunshine Shop and Ralph’s Grocery as well as The Spot, Mills Drug and Thrifty’s (5-cent single cones). So small that our phone numbers (pre-cell phone era) all shared the first three numbers so we just had to know the last four numbers of our friends’ home phones. My friends were 5866, 2978, 1913, 2134 and I was 5592 (I’ll even bet you, as they are reading this, they can still remember which number belonged to who…which some of them still have). Our graduating class was just over a hundred and we’d been memorizing those phone numbers since grade school. We’re tight knit because there just weren’t that many of us. These days, 30 years after graduating, we may be scattered around the country and beyond, but we remain tight because small town kids are like that and we commit to our village.
Once a villager, always a villager….no matter how far away you find yourself.
So lately the village has been hit hard. Childhood friends of mine have been handed some impossible paths. Rough stuff. And these are some healthy people too. Top softball players, paratroopers, singers, runners. A truly top notch crowd of great parents, skilled individuals, good hearts, extraordinary friends and loving husbands and wives to their spouses. And that whole idea that bad things are reserved for bad people is destroyed because these are the most positive and kind people you will ever find and the highest level of devoted parent that can exist.
When life hit them hard and threw breast and colon cancer at them and then threw pediatric bone cancer and terminal spinal muscular atrophy at their children, these best-of-the-best human beings did not crumble. You know how some of us do the go-to-thing where, when asked to stand, we fall right down in a heap of tears and howling? When asked to shine, we dim? When asked to inspire, we fall right into our own pity party? Yeah, that thing. It’s okay because that is who some of us are. We crumble, we tremble and we fall into a million pieces when challenge knocks at our door. I’ll be honest with you, having not been tested before, I might just be a crumbler. As I see them fighting with such radiance, I am absolutely gobsmacked by their wonder as they step up, lead the way and shine a light to inspire the rest of us. And let me make it clear, these are not people who were looking to inspire you. They are quieter than that. They were busy being good spouses and parents and didn’t need to inspire any more than they already had. These friends did not want to be asked to shine a light and yet, when asked, THEY DID and they did it with gusto and sparkle and a positive gift giving flair that drew us all to their strength.
So when I hear the world at large throwing around the word “hero”, my hackles go way up because little boys who make millions playing games on fields and in gyms are not heroes. Showing up does not a hero make. Heroes are not entertainers paid millions to make nice sounds. Heroes are not actors paid millions to cry on cue. Those are kids playing games they are well compensated for.
Heroes are so much more and real heroes are quieter than that.
The real heroes are found on a variety of hospital floors every single day fighting hard and doing what they do best…shining.
- Heroes are the parents who shine even as they face terminal diseases in their children, like cancers and spinal muscular atrophy, head on despite the tears that fill them, because they want to prolong their child’s life even if for one more day. They make a path for their children so that a child’s story can be told and they stand up for their children even when their heart is crumbling.
- Heroes are the ones who face cancer like a prize fighter while enduring a double mastectomy and hardly skip a beat when the cancer returns a second time and she has to start the fight all over again.
- Heroes are the ones who, when the doctor says they will be faced with a rigorous and daily chemo/radiation schedule, he steps up and starts fighting with his light shining bright.
- Heroes are the ones who stand tall and fight cancer on two fronts when a daughter and a wife are diagnosed with cancer at the same time.
- Heroes are the ones who smile even when their heart is breaking. The ones who share their light with the rest of us and inspire us to be better.
- Heroes quietly go about standing up tall and shining their lights even when they feel like fading from the weight of the battle.
The biggest truth is that these friends, and many strangers just like them, do this every day..quietly and out of the spotlight. They summon up energy even when they have none, they stand when they feel like crumbling and they keep strong for the sake of family, friends and their own hearts because not everyone is born into lives brimming with health and happy or a life padded with parents offering a silver spoon. Not everyone is given the pool side chaise lounge. Some of you are asked to dig deeper, stand taller and endure more. People with first initials (because you know I value privacy) like S and R and H and J and D are quietly asked to do more for no apparent reason at all…except to show the rest of us what grace, and hope and real faith look like in living color.
And while some of us complain about the weather or our kiddos or the traffic we endure, some of you sit in doctors’ offices and listen to crazy foreign words like cancer and radiation and chemo and double mastectomy and spinal muscular atrophy and you simply step up in ways we cannot imagine. Despite the heartbreak and the fear and the stubbornness that screams ‘this-can’t-possibly-be-happening’…….
And these friends are what my heroes look like….because life isn’t fair, life isn’t equal, life isn’t always kind but some of you step up, shine a light, lead the way, clear a path, tell a story, and you inspire us all to be better than we are. You teach us to do more than what is easy. While some of us will walk though this life entitled and arrogant because life has asked nothing more of us, you define grace. While some of us will be given children who develop rapid fire and hit their developmental milestones with ease no matter how badly they were parented, you show us determination.
The harder realities of life I’m learning in my fourth decade are that:
Some of you will walk a tougher path,
Some of you will not have it easy,
Some of you will be asked to do what seems like the impossible,
Some of you will share a light that will change our lives,
Some of you will inspire us to be better people,
Some of us will simply be in awe of you,
And some of us, like me, will be changed by your journey.
Some of you are simply asked to be heroes and to make the world a better place and to remind us that we are all capable of more. My hope and want in writing this is that, in the middle of your challenging days, that you understand that who you are matters to all of us and the battle you face matters…perhaps more than you know because some of you are the inspiration that moves some of us to reach higher, dig deeper and live more boldly. Some of you are asked to dig deep so that some of us can stand in the shadow of your strength and see faith up close. You are the light and you lead the way for all of us to be better human beings.
What I write won’t ease your chemo or your radiation or the pain your child endures or the loss of your spouse but, truly, I am grateful for who you are and how you show me a strength of spirit I had never seen before. When I see you shine, I see His light on your path. I would say I am better because of you but I’ll go further out on that limb and say, we are all better people because of you and the grace you allow us to witness.
I watch you stand up,
I watch you stay strong,
I watch you shoot straight as an arrow
I watch you shine your light and
I am in awe of you because you make me want to be a better human being.