The other day my 6-year-old daughter asked me “What is a hero?” As I stumbled through the words to describe someone who is admirable and inspires us to be better, I wondered if the idea of having heroes resonates as much in our world. Sometimes it feels like we know too much about our public figures these days to pick someone from that realm.
It also made me think of my personal hero, my dad.
It took me years to realize that he was my hero. It wasn’t until I’d traveled enough through life to have failures as well as successes that I started looking closer at my dad who was then in his 70’s. I wanted to try to identify what made him so unstoppably enthusiastic and delightful.
On first glance, it was easy to attribute his goodness to his career as a Presbyterian pastor for 40 years. Certainly that made him a person who worked hard to do good, but there was another equation that underscored who he was. Here’s what I’ve boiled it down to in three points, the number he always used for sermons:
He was dedicated to being useful. For him that meant rolling up his sleeves and pitching in where help was needed. If he came to my house for dinner, he would jump in to do the dishes before the dinner was even served. Sometimes I had to tell him to stand down if I wasn’t actually done with a pot. He’d laugh and look for something else. And that applied to plumbing, tiling, gardening, service projects, whatever he could find.
But he had the gift of making it a two way street because he’d ask for help. When he and my mom were building a cabin in the San Juan islands, he recruit people for “work parties” to clear the land or raise the foundation. Or if you were a member of his church, he’d recruit you for committees and service. And this back and forth made it feel not like his help was charity but that it was community because he wouldn’t hesitate to ask when he needed help.
He loved people. For him that usually meant listening. Although he was a preacher and a very good one, he thought that was a very small part of his job. He loved people for who they were and that included their imperfections too. If I ever asked him about people who he found frustrating, he’d shrug his shoulders and say something like “You never know all that’s going on with someone. We’re all weird and once you accept that, you can just love them anyway.”
He didn’t often give advice but when he did, there was no penalty for not listening. As the pastor who was performing my wedding to my now ex-husband, he sat us down for marriage counseling as he did with everyone he married. He very eloquently described what was wrong with us (my words, not his) because our personal and professional lives were too intertwined. We did nothing to correct this and he did a beautiful job of marrying us anyway.
He was obedient. That was his word for listening to the small voice of God within him. This was the part that most interested and confounded me. He was such a delightful person with many talents and a great attitude so what part did faith play in his life? It took me a long time to come up with an answer I could understand. And that was, he listened to where God led him, he abided by what he thought a Godly life was AND he lived life in partnership with God. He knew when things were above his pay grade and then he turned them over to God. That gave him an enormous amount of comfort and confidence.
My dad died suddenly in a bike accident at age 79. One of his friends eulogized him perfectly as “a battery on feet just looking for someone to jump start.” Fortunately in the years before he died, I’d started developing my own faith and the small voice of God within me led me to ask him questions about his life and record them. It was all part of my hero worship and a such a gift to be able to delve into this man from whom I’d inherited much of his way of looking at the world.
This is what was running through my mind as I answered my daughter about heroes and why we need them. They show us a little bit of the way so we can go further and faster. We stand on the shoulders of those that go before us. Recognizing heroes who resonate most with each of us is one great step forward in knowing what to study. They are part of our stories and give us connection and warmth to the inspiration we glean.
Who are your heroes?
Please come visit my personal blog at https://wynneleon.wordpress.com .
Follow me on Instagram at @wynneleon