Friday, November 24, 2017

Heroes and heartache

I don't remember when this was. It was in the early days of the Window, after Tony Hare had taken my picture for the paper. What a nice guy he was. So, anyway, sometime in the early 90s, I think. The times have done some changing since then, know, not everything. I've updated this some, subtracted a few things that were too dated to make sense and added a few. 

I had to add something here, too, a category of heroes that is new on my Top Ten list. There are a lot of heroes who clean up the devastation left by disasters--both natural and human-made. I can't imagine walking into one of those places where children were harmed by wanton violence. I can't imagine being a nurse or a doctor trying to save those young lives and not being able to. My thanks to them for doing what they do, and my everlasting admiration.

There are words that just go together, you know. Bacon and eggs, peanut butter and jelly, his and hers. I've noticed as I've aged that heroes and heartache are that way, too.

“That's why you can't give up. Heroes don't give up.” ― Kiera Cass

I miss heroes. I had them as a kid. They were just the regular ones (remember, this was the 1950s--regular was different then. - Liz, 2017) They were, to my unjaded eyes, a cut above. They had an intelligence and a manner of using it that was beyond my admittedly limited understanding. Some of them grew up poor, as I had, and made me think that I could accomplish things like they did. I wanted to be famous like the, rich like them, and admired like them.

I wanted to shake the dust of Indiana cornfields from my shoes and go on to higher, better, less confining places. I sneered at the names of where we are: the Corn Belt, the Bible Belt, the Crossroads of America. Get real. The only thing that happens at crossroads is that people turn or they keep on going, because either way, there's nothing there.

I saw myself living in a city, writing books, and wearing dress-for-success suits for lunches with my publisher. As I strode up the city sidewalks with a free, long-legged gait, people would turn as they recognized me and I would smile at them, a smile that promised that they, too, could be like my heroes and, subsequently, like me.

Well, I grew up some. And I did what we Bible Belters do. I have a family, a house in the country, and a job I like most of the time. The cornfield dust is firmly attached to both my shoes and my heart. My legs remained short and I don't have any suits--although there is this one pair of black pants I wear to funerals and other events where yoga pants don't look quite right.

As I grew up, however, my heroes didn't. They developed feet of clay. The presidents I admired were less than admirable. The astronauts were just ordinary people with extraordinary jobs. The musicians whose music I loved seemed always to be surrounded by controversy and drugs and things clandestine that lowered them from the pedestals of heroism.

Yeah, you bet I miss them. That particular Top Ten list was something I wanted to pass on my kids, but something happened along the way. I think the kids all found their own heroes, and that's a good thing, because there weren't all that many left on my list to pass down.

But, you know, I have a new list.

One Christmastime,  a woman came into the post office where I was working to mail two large parcels to her family in the South. They wouldn't have a Christmas if she didn't, she explained. But she only had enough money to send one of the parcels the slowest, cheapest way. Planning to go borrow money and come back, she left, leaving both parcels in my custody. The man who had stood behind her in line very quietly paid to mail both parcels at the fast Priority Mail rate. He wouldn't leave his name.

There are teachers known by all of us who, when they see their kids in need, dip into their own pockets to provide. There are Little League parents who pay entry fees for children whose parents can't, who give rides to players without them, and who buy a whole bunch of stuff they neither need nor want because it helps the league. There are coaches who cover expenses not in their contracts, store clerks who keep change in their pockets for customers who don't have quite enough, and people who volunteer and volunteer and volunteer some more.

There is a man with whom I graduated from high school who pulled people from a burning car. People who take care of animals in need. People and agencies who work behind the scenes to fulfill the needs of those who fall between society's ever widening cracks.

There are people who attend meetings of boards and councils whose purposes affect us all and stand firm and tall for what they believe to be right and the best thing for everyone--not just a chosen few.

None of these people will ever be presidents, astronauts, or famous musicians. They might never live in the city and their shoes are probably dusty in the summer. Because they have chosen to stay at the crossroads and light the way for others who have chosen to turn or go on. They are the ones who make the path a little smoother and the world a little kinder.

But are they heroes? Oh, yes.


  1. As usual, you nailed it--even years later, this resonates. Nice post, Lizzie. ;-)