The everyday heroes are the most important ones.
“The world's battlefields have been in the heart chiefly; more heroism has been displayed in the household and the closet than on the most memorable battlefields in history.” American politician Henry Ward Beecher gave us that profound quote back in the 1800s, but it was never truer than it is today.
The three main lessons I have learned as a hospice chaplain are: the importance of every life, the sacredness of each death and the magnitude of everyone's grief. The confluence of those lessons reveals that every life matters and has impact and influence that are beyond measure. Every day, whether we know it or not, we look for inspiration from a hero and every day has opportunities for everybody to be a hero.
My sons were in town last week with their young sons — 5 months and 14 months. They came to celebrate their sister's high school graduation from Castle View High School. One son lives in Ohio and the other in Texas, so it was the first time we were all together since Gram and Hayes were born. This grandfather experience was new for me and I was filled with pride and pleasure as I saw my family grow and each of my children's lives expanding. In a new way my eyes were opened to the impact of their lives on their sons and my hopes of extending the legacy of my life and values to a new generation. Beecher was right, “heroism is displayed in the household.”
My dad was my hero. I didn't realize it when I was growing up. He seemed too ordinary to be a hero by what I thought heroes were. He was not a great athlete. He was not famous or even popular. He lived a faithful life of quiet devotion to his God, country, family and job. Yesterday the flag that draped his casket arrived at my house. I'm glad to have it and proudly display it, two years after his death, because now I recognize how much I admired him and how important he was to me. His service in World War II as a machine gunner on a B-17 that was shot down earned him the flag and my admiration. But his everyday labor to provide for the family and his attentiveness to the events of my life over the years is what made him such a large part of my life. I don't think there is a day that I don't think of him in some way that is small but meaningful.
In the second chapter of my book, “Welcome to the Big Leagues,” I talk about my dad but also the baseball player Darrel Chaney and his baseball hero Ernie Banks. Ernie took time to give a boy an autograph that he posted over his bed and looked at every day. After a brief conversation, Ernie wrote on the Little League banquet program, “I'll see you in the Big Leagues.” These words motivated Darrel every day, which inspired his hope as much as watching Ernie play baseball. The combination produced a poignant scene at first base at Wrigley Field nine years later when Ernie greeted Darrel with the words, “Welcome to the big leagues! I knew you'd make it.”
Dad and Ernie had hero qualities. They lived like their lives mattered. They took time to pay attention to young guys who only had dreams and potential. They spoke words into the young guys' lives in ways that seemed forgettable, but instead gave a future to both Darrel and me. And they celebrated our accomplishments in uninhibited displays of contagious pride and pleasure.
We need everyday heroes today to encourage and inspire each other. Our circumstances exhaust and disappoint us. We require people who affirm and strengthen the way we feel and think about ourselves.
The faith community possesses the hero message and potential. “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.” (Psalm 71:18) The Scripture challenges me with responsibility but it also inspires me with the significance of my life and that I matter to my sons and grandsons. Maybe someday they will call me their hero because in the little events of everyday life, my life is more important than I see. I can believe my life matters. Everybody can believe that. Then we can find and be the most important kind of hero, an everyday hero.
Dan Hettinger is director of pastoral services at Hospice of Saint John and president of The Jakin Group, a ministry of encouragement, especially to Christian workers. You can email him at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.