Yesterday I wrote about Super Bug (able to achieve antibiotic resistance with a single mutation!), which got me to thinking about Super Heroes, which in turn got me to thinking about REAL heroes (and mine are indeed super, to me). There are lots of people I admire, both relatives (Cousin Shane, Bro-in-Law Tom, Cousin Ron, et al) as well as public figures (Peyton Manning and Bill Gates spring immediately to mind). But true heroes are pretty rare for me. The definition of a hero in the context of which I'm writing is, "A person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life." By this definition, I have three. But they're still alive, thank God!
First, my Mom and Dad. They grew up during the Depression, and their families were very poor. Mom had a pretty rough childhood (I won't go into details here), and was supporting herself by the time she was 16. She saved her money from working at a diner, and when she and Dad eventually got married, she had saved enough to buy, I think a refrigerator for them. A pretty remarkable accomplishment for that time! Mom is probably the kindest person I know. She has a way of striking up a conversation with a total stranger, who walks away feeling better for the encounter. I can't think of anything I'd rather aspire to than having everyone I meet walk away thinking, "I'm glad I met her." (I'm still working on that, believe me.)
My Dad is a WWII veteran, and as all members of the Greatest Generation (Mom included), talked very little about the war or about rough times. It wasn't until I was a young adult that Dad talked to me about some of his experiences in the war, and even then, he usually told me funny stories, not scary ones. It was my honor (along with the rest of our immediate family) to be there with him at the dedication of the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C. It's something I'll never forget, and I know it meant a lot to Dad, because he mentions it once in a while. Dad is similar to Mom in that people enjoy being around him. For me, he has always had a quiet strength that taught me how best to handle situations, and also taught me the kind of man I wanted my future husband to be (I finally got that one right).
The reasons they are my heroes are innumerable, but there are a few things that were always especially important to them (and are now to me). One was an appreciation and conservation of nature. They taught me that wonders are all around us, and it's up to us to see them, appreciate them, and care for them. Another was a love of reading. I was a bookworm from early on (I read an Isaac Asimov book about mythology in second grade), and it has always served me well. Books were always important in our house, and Mom and Dad still love to read. Yet another was a very good work ethic. I honestly don't think I'd be a responsible, hardworking citizen today if they hadn't given me these gifts.
And finally, Mom and Dad are heroes to me because they have been married for 60 years. That's right: SIXTY. They rarely gave me advice unless I asked for it, and it must have hurt them greatly to see some of the bonehead mistakes I made in my relationships. But their commitment to each other and their steadfast love for each other over the decades finally got through to me, and I'm so grateful that I had that kind of example in my life. Which brings me to my other hero. What a beautiful segue!
That would be my husband, who I've mentioned often here. Ken is such a hard worker, and honestly feels that it's his duty to his employer to do the best job he can do. He also has that quiet strength that I admire so much in my Dad. I'm usually fairly calm, but I can get riled up about things every so often--okay, fairly often--and Ken can really defuse my riled-up state! He's a rock that keeps me grounded. He also is very kind to others--I'm often wary of situations where someone might take advantage of my small stature, but when I'm with him, I don't feel as scared of situations like that. That has inspired me to do more and be kinder to people. When we were in Philadelphia for the Tutankhamen exhibit, Ken drove the rental a couple of blocks to the return site (this was while the city was still recovering from a nasty ice storm). He was going to walk back, and it seemed like a long time, and he wasn't back yet. I was starting to get a little worried, but when he showed up, he said that a couple of people were stuck along the street, and he helped them push their cars out. I was touched that he would do that for someone. (Although like we always say, no matter where we go, we are ambassadors for Indiana and for the U.S. We do our best.)
He's also not afraid to tell it like it is. When our family was on the Washington trip for the WWII Memorial dedication, we were all at the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say it's almost a holy site for our country, and they ask for quiet and respect while viewing the documents. There was a group of school kids in there, and they were being kind of loud and rude, they dropped candy wrappers (ARGH!), and they kept bumping us from behind as we were trying to look at the documents. Ken finally had it, and he turned on 'em. He said, "This is what our country is all about. This is what gives you the right to choose whether or not you want to be here. If you don't want to be here, then leave. If you stay, then show some respect!" I still chuckle when I think about it! They shut up, too.
And finally (I know this is getting long), Ken is a hero to me because he brings out the best in me. I've been in some relationships that brought out the absolute worst in me, and believe me, it's such a relief and such a gift to be with someone who inspires me to be a decent person and do the right thing. I find that I want his admiration, and it makes me want to do my best to earn it. It goes back to that whole "raising the bar" attitude that I've written about--if you expect the worst of people, that's what you will get. If you inspire them to do their best, through your words but especially through your deeds, you will get it returned tenfold. Ken has raised the bar for me, and I couldn't be happier.