Last week I attended the funeral of a man who was approaching 90. He was a plain, simple, hard-working man. He was married to the same woman for 60 years. He was a kind and gentle man, a father and grandfather.
He loved music and was a leader in his church. He loved the young people, and they loved him. As an old man he sat in the back of the church, and all the children came to sit with him. He was a hero.
He was not famous or powerful, wealthy or handsome, all of the qualities the world appears to admire but which are as elusive as stardust. He had the qualities that endure, qualities that touch the lives of others forever in a positive way: honor, integrity, truthfulness, love for those around him, commitment to his faith and dedication to a purpose in life. He was honest. His word was his bond. His life was consistently good. Not perfect, no doubt. But consistently maturing in wisdom, kindness and understanding. A life consistently moving in the right direction.
He's not the only hero I know. I have had the good fortune to know many, including my own parents, who are no longer with us in the flesh. I wonder if all the heroes are old and will all be gone some day. It isn't true because my son is a hero, and my grandson shows every sign of one, too.
And then I think about some of my friends. Imperfect, struggling with difficult issues in life. Feeling sometimes they are failing; falling down and getting up again. But not as much anymore. Learning. Maturing. Being consistent. Being dependable. Working hard. Being self-reliant. Growing wiser. Knowing there is pain in loving. Loving anyway. Giving with no expectation of return. Sacrificing without noticing.
But caring enough to say no sometimes. Teaching their children and grandchildren and wishing they could learn without going through the suffering. Believing in their ideals enough to live up to them. Having a faith strong enough to sustain them. Recognizing that some things are important enough to die for. Hoping they would be strong enough to do it. Realizing they might have to. Being examples. Being heroes. Raising heroes.
Yes, there are still plenty of heroes around. If you look in the right places.