Everyday Heroes

While reading Rebecca Solnit’s book, “A Paradise Built in Hell,” I came across a passage that I can’t stop thinking about:

We often hear about heroes in disasters, but the window of time when acts of physical courage matter is often very  brief, and those when generosity and empathy are more important to survival last weeks, months, years.

Three years ago (23 May 2011) I made my way across the state of Missouri in a mad dash to respond to the devastation in Joplin the day before.  It was there that I met heroes.

From the young man, full of fear and unable to sleep, who spoke of crawling through the ruins of his neighbor’s house to hold a stranger’s hand for hours before rescue personnel arrived on scene.  Or the gentleman who was in St John’s Hospital when it got hit, throwing him to the floor.  He eventually led the handful of nurses and patients around him to safety before returning to venture back into the building over and over and over again despite the risk to his own life.  Or the young woman who jumped in her car, drove through the night, and arrived at the Volunteer Reception Center early the next morning, alongside hundreds (if not thousands) of other spontaneous volunteers.  I met her as she held a survivor in silence.  No words were exchanged, but she was there for them, letting emotions speak freely.

I’ve been surrounded by heroes my entire life.  I was born into a family where my father served in the US Army.  Even at a young age, I knew and respected the fact that these men and women were and are heroes who live and serve together.  I knew it even more each night that my dad was not home, but out in the field or deployed overseas.  Even now, many members of my family (and family friends) serve in the military forces, heroes each one of them.

In my journeys I have received the opportunity to meet many individuals.  Many of them would be hesitant to admit it, but they, too, are heroes.

Almost a year ago (30 June 2013), 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hot Shot crew lost their lives while fighting a wildfire.  Among them, one of the young men that I served with in Crown King, AZ.  I don’t know what their last thoughts were about, whether or not they were afraid.  It doesn’t matter.  They were heroes that faced danger with courage each day.

I know several individuals who are volunteer firefighters, EMTs, Paramedics, Police Officers, and Emergency Responders, my brother included.  It’s part of their jobs, but in those moments when it matters, they become heroes.

But what about everyone else?  That window of time that allows for heroes does not remain open for long.  Unless you are in the right place at the right time, your chance may be gone in a flash.  But you would be wrong.

Heroes happen every single day.  It’s just that we don’t take the time to notice.  It can be as simple as starting a conversation or as terrifying as telling someone how beautiful they are.  We may never know how much of an impact our actions make on someone else’s life.  What seems like a little act of kindness can change the world for someone who is about to give up on everything.

Take for example a friend of mine:  They were at rock bottom, the lowest of the low.  Then someone passing by smiled at them.  And in that moment they realized that despite everything, they too could smile.

It doesn’t take a lot to be a hero.  You just can’t let apathy take control.  Then you can change the world, one person at a time.

It may be as simple as sitting down to listen to someone’s story.  Or holding someones hand.  Or being present for someone who is going through a rough time.  Words may not be necessary.

This weekend is Memorial Day, a time when we remember all those that have given their lives in service to our nation.  It is a time to remember our heroes.  From the military service members to their families that hold vigil until they return home, our first responders, wildland firefighters, police officers, and community members that act with decisiveness in those moments of chaos, and the everyday heroes that have changed each of our lives.

So, before you fire up the grill, take a moment to remember your heroes.  Say a prayer for those who still serve.  And reach out to the community around you with love.

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