I’ve fallen behind in my reading. At the end of December one of my favourite bloggers, Book Peeps, posted about ‘heroines’. I just read it the other day, and I’m glad I did. After providing the definition of the word, she listed a few women she considered heroines; and then went on to post links to several books.
They’d been selected by Parul Sehgal, a New York Times Editor as her favourite literary heroines of 2012. Book Peeps also linked to an interesting article Sehgal wrote for NPR.
After thinking about it for a minute, I realized my list would include all the women Book Peeps mentioned: Amelia Earhart, Joan-of-Arc, Harriet Tubman, Anne Frank and Mother Theresa. To that list, I added a couple of my own. The first two women I thought of, were Helen Keller and Golda Meir.
What all these women accomplished in their lifetimes was ‘extraordinary’. Yet they were all ordinary citizens, from humble beginnings. All overcame incredible odds. All had strong convictions and were prepared to live, and die, by them. All put others ahead of themselves. All were courageous. Determined. Undaunted. Strong.
All born at different times, in different places. But all shared the same characteristics.
Looks like there’s a pattern here, don’t you think?
Made me think a lot about about heroes. The ‘obvious’ ones. The men and women who risk their own lives, fighting fires and crime and wars, so millions upon millions of total strangers can remain free from harm. Safe. And secure. Celebrities, who use their fame to focus attention on the people and countries and causes needing assistance. Activists, who fight for their principles and our rights.
Then there are the ‘heroes’ we don’t always hear about. Who don’t always make it into the ‘news’. The ‘unsung’ heroes.
Doctors and lawyers who waive fees to help the poor and needy. Teachers and volunteers who travel to third world countries to help; and to help bring about change. Hairdressers and make-up artists who give of their time and expertise so women suffering from cancer, who’ve lost their hair because of chemo, can feel good about themselves again. And regain the will to fight.
Those who rescue animals in peril. Those who work tirelessly to protect victims of abuse. To ensure abusers are brought to justice. And to stop abuse in our lifetime. Heroes. Each and every one. And also wonderful role models.
Which led me down a totally different path. I started to think about some of the people in my own life. Who taught me about grace. Courage. Spirit. And strength under pressure.
Heroes of a different kind, but heroes none the less. Best described by Christopher Reeve: “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles”. Like my aunt.
My mother’s identical twin sister fell in love and got married. Not long after, she got sick and wasn’t allowed to have children for seven years. She finally got the all-clear and had a beautiful baby girl. When the baby was thirteen months old, her dad (my aunt’s husband) died, suddenly and unexpectedly. He was 39 years old. My aunt was 32. Widowed with a baby. When that ‘baby’ was 24, she died. Also suddenly and unexpectedly.
Can you imagine such a thing? Through all of it, my aunt remained stoic. She refused to feel sorry for herself. She refused to drown herself in sorrow. She mourned. She cried, as we all did. While she didn’t ‘enshrine’ her first husband or her daughter, she never forgot either one of them. She carried them in her heart until the day she died.
But she carried on. And continued to ‘live’. She had remarried when my cousin was 13 years old, to a wonderful man. A widower with an 11 year old daughter and two grown sons. She loved them dearly and they, her. She was a grandmother and a great grandmother. And if you’d have asked her, she would have told you how grateful she was for all she had. Never bitter, never angry, never self-absorbed.
She was my hero.
As my mother was. Feisty and a pillar of strength until the end, she never shied away from making tough decisions. And she never lost her zest for life. When she had to learn to give herself insulin injections I offered to go with her. “Not necessary”, she said. Mastered it in five minutes. When she was told, at 84 years old, she’d need dialysis her response was, “Not exactly what I’d hope for, but if that’s what I have to do to be healthy and stay alive, so be it. What do I have to do?”
Three days a week, four hours each time, she went to the hospital. With a full face of make-up, perfectly coiffed hair and dressed to the teeth. With a huge smile on her face, a warm “hello” for everyone, and an arsenal of new jokes to share. Patients half her age were exhausted after dialysis. Not my mother. She’d want to know if I felt like going to a movie. And when I’d ask how her day was, she’d always answer, “Great. How was yours?”
She was my hero.
What about you? Who are the people in your life who set great examples for you? Who do you look up to? And admire? Who’s your hero?