Quiet Heroes

Hero has become a popular word these days, as it should be. It is being applied to front-line workers battling COVID, to police officers, to firefighters and EMTs, and to our warrior veterans. Indeed these are all people who suit up and show up to jobs that could make today their last.

I have been a practicing psychotherapist for a very long time. Sometimes people will ask “How do you do that? How do you sit for hour after hour listening to terrible stuff?” Well, first of all, I recall what one woman said to me one day when my stress level was apparent. She said “Hey! Us crazy people didn’t ask you to do this job!” Amen to that.

I do know that one thing that keeps me going is that I get to meet true heroes on a regular basis. These are not always people who have saved someone from a burning building or fought in a key battle in a war. These heroes get no medals. They are people who face life’s challenges quietly and with no self-pity. They conduct themselves with integrity. They are what I call quiet heroes.

I think of a woman who was battling cancer and who had also gone through a painful divorce. She was to pick her son up at a church function where the boy would be with his dad. This woman’s husband had remarried and his wife recently had a child. My friend went to the church hall and it was crowded. She saw her ex-husband at the other end of the hall. She took a deep breath and walked the length of the hall. She greeted her ex-husband who was holding the baby. She asked if she could pronounce a blessing over the baby which she did. She then exited from the hall with her son, head held high, and burst into tears when she got outside.

I think of a man at age 86 who came in to finally confront his experiences in the South Pacific in World War II. He believed he had been a coward when in fact all that happened was that he had been afraid. He was finally able to accept that he wasn’t the only one, something he had believed for 60 years.

I think of a young man suffering from agoraphobia who would challenge himself to go to Barnes and Noble each Saturday morning and simply walk around for 30 minutes. I ran into him there one Saturday. He was walking quickly with eyes to the ground. When he saw me, he seemed almost embarrasses and said “Doc, I’m trying!”

I think of several parents, including my own, who tried to go on living after losing a child.

I think of a man I met in a support group who was facing alcoholism at the age of 76, saying simply “I don’t want to die a drunk.”

You may also know some heroes and perhaps are one yourself. You may be one of the thousands I’ve met who try to face life’s challenges, hurts, and traumas. You may be one of thousands who try to heal, enduring great pain to do so. You may be someone who elects to face pain rather than take it out on others.

So, yes, I have known many heroes through my work (and, I might add, in my personal life.) They have taught me much. I am grateful.

Reflection: What quiet heroes have you known in your life?