HERO: Coined in 1387, the word hero comes from the Greek (hērōs), “hero, warrior” and literally translated means “protector” or “defender”.
So how long does it take to become a hero? One moment? An hour? A lifetime?
How can you achieve this revered status? Unfortunately, I don’t really know!
But after experiencing the death and recovery of Mom since last Sunday’s drowning at Stinson Beach, I’ve come to realize there are two basic kinds of heroes:
There are “reluctant” heroes, and those who earn the title one day at a time.
My definition of a reluctant hero is a soldier, a firefighter, an EMT or innocent bystander who is presented with an unexpected situation, and because of their training or willingness to help they end up performing a heroic action like saving our beautiful Mom.
These reluctant heroes seldom want recognition, and often feel guilty when others project the “hero” label on them. They are just doing their jobs in many cases, and to a large degree I agree with that sentiment.
But to the person they saved, that reluctance doesn’t make them any less deserving of heroic recognition.
As humans we love to hear about heroic actions and we have a tendency to put reluctant heroes on a pedestal and idolize them. We crave that kind of feel-good story that is the stuff of movies: So neat, so tidy, so definitive. But real life is seldom so elegant, and resolution seldom comes with such expedience.
In Mom’s case, our firemen heroes (although off-duty) were in fact just doing their job, or at least what they were trained to do. They were in the right place at the right time (divine intervention?) and had they, the lifeguard on duty, or the two folks who originally pulled Mom from the water sat idly by, Mom would have paid the ultimate price and a tsunami of grief would have followed shortly thereafter.
But you know what I think makes them real heroes? Not the action they took, but the split-second decision they made to get involved. All of them.
They suppressed the fear or uncertainty any person has when confronting a life or death situation and took action immediately. Reluctant heroes are often the embodiment of actions speaking louder than words.
While reluctant heroes are typically thrust into their heroic situation against their will, one-day-at-a-time heroes are also our guardian angels and they come in all shapes and sizes.
I’ll call them the heroes among us.
Through hard work, dedication, and consistently protecting and defending those who can’t do it for themselves, the heroes among us deserve as much respect and recognition as the reluctant heroes, after all, they perform exactly the same life-saving heroism… the only difference is they do it over a much longer period, and they do it willfully.
During the past few days I’ve become acutely aware of (and found inspiration in) the heroes all around us. These are the heroes that earn our respect day in and day out through dedication, hard work, and meaningful interaction in our lives. The heroes I’m talking about are the caregivers at the Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo California, and of course our family and friends who’ve been so supportive through this painful experience with Mom.
Firstly, the nurses, technicians, therapists, and doctors who helped Mom:
They are as responsible for saving her life as the two firemen on the beach! They are heroes in every sense of the word. I don’t need to go into a long drawn out explanation of what they do, but suffice it to say they spend all day on their feet, walking from patient to patient, dealing with all kinds of terrible situations, and they still keep their heads up, their noses to the grind-stone, and make life-changing decisions at a moments notice with minimal information.
And they usually do it with a smile and a positive attitude meant to lift the spirits of those around them.
These hard working people take risk, the reward of which is to save a human life. And they take these risks every day, every hour, every minute. They protect, and they defend, and they do it at their own peril and in most cases without special recognition or thanks.
They truly are the heroes among us.
Mom is another hero in this story. She is so strong and so deeply desires not to miss anything fun that I guess she simply was not ready to go, and we are glad. When she finally opened her shining eyes three days after her accident and chatted with us about what happened, and how she got where she was, her very first instincts were to apologize for causing such a fuss and upsetting the kids and the family. She talked about how they were having “such a blast” then just remembers “being slammed”, and darkness.
Her second instinct was to share her deepest gratitude with the “hotties” who saved her life (the firemen), and the hospital staff who’ve been so instrumental in her journey back to us. She is a shining example of a life-long hero. One who has been through many trials in life, and through it all she’s never retreated or gone to a dark place, which is what so many others have succumbed to when confronted with great tragedy and challenges in life. Mom never focuses on her self, but instead chooses to project her positive energy on the people around her and in return that positive energy comes back to nourish her in spades. She is the real-life manifestation of “the power of positive thinking!”
Dad (Jeff), Ricky (Mom’s brother) and Allison (Rick’s wife) are heroes #2,3, and 4 in this beautiful story. Each of them processed this tragedy in different ways, but their actions were in keeping with the fine traditions of other heroes among us!
As you might imagine, Dad has been deeply affected by this whole thing. The devastating realization that life is short, and the fragility of our journey along its path can change unexpectedly at a moments notice. But in Mom’s darkest hour, Dad showed us his instinct to protect and defend her is not diminished, and in fact is strengthened. Dad sat by Mom’s side for nearly three days non stop, held her hand, spoke soothingly to her… he made sure the staff was well aware she is loved and needed by many!
Rick (Uncle Ricky as I like to call him) is also our hero, and Mom & Dad’s defender. Rick is Mom’s little brother and they share what I’ll so geekily describe as a covalent bond, and just like in chemistry, that bond can’t be broken without causing a powerful burst of energy. Ricky is one of the most level headed, sarcastically funny, uber-heroes among us I’ve had the privilege to love in my life. Like Dad, he was there since day one sitting with Mom, holding her hand, talking with her, and making sure that when she woke up briefly in a haze of narcotics and trauma, she was not stricken by the fear that would surely be brought on by the pain in her chest and the uncertainty of not knowing where she was or how she got there.
Rick also formed a strong bond with Dad by sharing the deeply emotional experience of watching helplessly as someone who forms the center of their universe struggle to stay with us. Making sure Dad had (reluctant) periods of respite so he could get some much needed and critical sleep. After all, Dad is now Mom’s guardian angel and she will need him healthy now more than ever before.
Sweet Allison is also a hero among us. Wife, sister, and Mom (and Aunt, but she’s only a few years older than me:-)… all at the same time, and all while dealing with this tragedy and juggling the life of a mother with two children Ben and Kate, in their FINAL WEEK OF SCHOOL: How does a mother deal with all this at the same time and keep it together? I can’t begin to deconstruct that, but I know she and Mom share many great virtues including selflessness, generosity, and an uncanny ability to feel empathy. In sharing these virtues with those around her, Allison keeps her own trials in perspective and in that clarity comes strength. Perhaps when this is all over and the storm has passed, it will involve some serious reflection, and quite possibly a few bottles of good wine that Amy and I will gladly help her with!
My incredible wife Amy is also a hero among us, and not just because she is a teacher of middle school math! From the moment we found out about this tragedy, she went into what I affectionately call her “crisis mode” where she puts up the deflector shields, shuts off her emotions as much as possible, and helps me manage my emotions to arrive at good decisions. In her strength I find mine, and Amy’s been by my side every step of the way, gotten less sleep, stayed more level-headed, and provided more comfort than anything else could have. She is what I needed to make it through this, and for that I love her dearly.
Last night after a really long and trying day of standing vigil over Mom, Amy even spent an extra two hours with Rick and Allison’s son Ben, helping him prepare for his final math exam. I tried to wait up, but passed out around midnight only to sense her getting in bed around 1:30am exhausted and shivering because she was freezing (believe it or not, its 55 degrees at night here in the Bay area during summer!). It never occurred to her to complain or interrupt her session with Ben to go put on a sweater or get some gloves. That’s what makes her a hero among us, and quite reluctantly I might add.
And lastly, but certainly not leastly (no, that isn’t a word, but who cares) the heroes among us who are family and friends. During an event like this the power of positive thinking, the support and prayers… its all good, it’s all meaningful, and I believe it all had a very real affect on the positive outcome.
Everything from Rick and Andrea helping out with a hotel room next to the hospital, to all the heart-felt wishes and notes of support… it all added up to an overwhelmingly positive experience, and one that reaffirmed my personal commitment to strengthen our “family” ties and continue my efforts at getting our families together more often to share this love in the good times, not just the bad ones.
As we see now, it must have worked! The prayers, the thoughts, the support, it all had a singular purpose and that purpose was to empower those of us around Mom to exude the confidence and energy she needed to come back.
And boy, did she ever!
Mom’s survival was made possible by a series of what can only be described as divine interventions… the bystanders who pulled her from the water, the off-duty firemen and the lifeguard at Stinson who literally brought her back to life with the defibrillator and CPR, and the care-givers who watched over her the following week, nursing her back to health.
All we can do is give thanks to the heroes among us, and renew our commitment to living a full life deserving of their sacrifices.