The older you get, the harder it is to find heroes.
Know what I mean?
It gets harder and harder with each passing winter to find someone who is uplifting, empowering, inspiring.
But you know what? Hanging out with young people helps. A lot.
My kids are working to revitalize and reshape an entire small American city. They are hands-on, in the dirt, reinventing an old New England Mill town. They love the town, they love their work, they love each other.
That’s inspiring and uplifting and all that good stuff. Isn’t it?
And they also make music. Fun music. Music that people really enjoy.
My kids do it for fun and personal pride, rather than for profit. That makes it more fun and less pressure. For them, the making of the music is not a life or death scenario. But they know lots of people who make even more music, some of which is in fact professional. For some of those friends, life does seem to be dependent upon that music.
Music that pokes your soul and taps your brain and tells you that as long as your heart is beating, your hope is alive.
That is a truly inspiring, empowering and uplifting message. Those who can bring that kind of message to us should surely be our heroes!
Of course, if I want find even more heroes, I should look at the very young to find my answers. I should look at teenagers to find my inspiration.
I’m watching right now as dozens of kids I used to teach are graduating from High School and university. I am sending good luck messages to men and women who were once the shy, quiet kids in my fifth grade class. I’m sending way-to-go cards to kids who were once the swaggering, cool-jock, super-pretty kids in my elementary school room.
Those kids have grown from needing me to open their juice boxes to planning the next renewable fuel source. They took every bit of love and teaching that was offered and they ran with it. That’s pretty cool!
And I can find heroes just by smiling at the people I run into ever day. Just by seeing those people. By hearing them.
Yesterday my husband and I had breakfast at a real, true, classic New England diner. This place had a sign out front that was no longer legible. The steps were worn, cracked, and warped. Inside, the diner was run down and worn, but was obviously an antique.
“Ya want coffee?” was our introduction the ambiance. Not particularly welcoming.
Within five minutes, we were chatting and laughing with the woman who was making the food. About my own middle age, she had a sturdy build and a working woman’s hands. She wore her gray hair in a ponytail, and had it clipped to the back of her hat.
As she flipped the eggs, poured pancake batter and buttered the toast, the woman engaged us in conversation. Her voice was rough. Her jokes were just what I’d have predicted: she lived so far out in the woods that she could sit outside in her underwear and it wouldn’t even scare off the moose. Her manner was strict and unsmiling, “Kids today would never have made it in my old neighborhood in New York.” She wanted to be gruff, strong, unsmiling.
But before my French Toast was flipped, I had learned that she was a widow, that her one child was an adult daughter who was soon to be married and who worked with troubled youth. I learned that the Mom was inspired by her daughter’s ongoing education, and that Mom knew how proud Dad would be of his girl.
That woman is my hero. She is strong, tall, unlovely. She takes care of orphaned cats and one dog. She grows flowers. She loves her daughter fiercely and misses her husband profoundly.
And every morning she wakes up, drives to the Diner, and starts to sling the hash for the neighbors and friends who come in.
That’s a hero.
We are actually surrounded by heroes, if we only take the time to look. The child who knows he doesn’t understand the social rules, but who heads off to school every day anyway. The teen who has music and poetry within their heart, but who is scared to share it. The moment when they share it anyway.
The musician who gets up in front of strangers for the first time and plays the song. The writer who hits “send”. The man who gets up every single weekday for 40 years just to turn on the lights in the municipal building. The woman who carefully adds a handful of blueberries to the pancakes on her griddle, a hundred and a hundred times every day.
We are each other’s heroes, really. We are all better together, stronger together, kinder together. We need to find our heroes in each other. We need to see each others’ heroes in ourselves.