Heroism in the Every Day

We all need heroes- someone we can look up to, who make us try to be the best version of ourselves. Usually when people speak of their heroes, they talk about people like Martin Luther King, Jr, or Mother Theresa- or maybe Henry Ford or Neil Armstrong. They are all amazing people- all people who achieved larger than life goals. There is, however, something to be said about finding the everyday heroes among us. People in our lives that touch us personally and show us that sometimes it is the small gestures, and the regular business of life done with more heart, that really matters. It is probably no surprise that “It’s a Wonderful Life” is my favorite movie, with “everyman” George Bailey as the hero who saves his town, one small gesture at a time. I was fortunate to have my own George Bailey in my life growing up…

When I was a kid, my father was a graduate student and we lived in student housing on the campus of the University of Virginia. I only barely remember it — I was about 4 ½ when we moved away. But there is one memory that is etched in my brain — the story of which has been told and retold many times in our family lore.

It was Spring and my sister — 2 years older than me (so we were roughly 3 and 5 years old) had gone out to play. In those days, it was totally normal for kids our age to be out playing without adult supervision, something that would certainty today cause a flurry of calls to child protective services. But those were simpler times.

So, my sister and I set off for the playground and began to dig in the sand — and soon uncovered a lost treasure from the previous fall- a metal shovel that we had lost. Now crusted with dried sand and with paint chipped from the weather, it was still a treasure to us.

We decided to try to restore the shovel to its original glory, by taking it to the laundry room in the housing complex where there would surely be a water source to wash the shovel. We arrived in the subterranean room of the dank wash room, and proceeded to wash our beloved shovel. Once clean we turned to leave- but realized too late that the heavy door was too difficult to open from the inside, for two little girls.

Sure that we would die in this horrible place, I began to sob uncontrollably. My sister, the person who was born making things right for the loved ones in her life, promptly sat me over the drain, so that my tears wouldn’t flood the room. She was an avid reader even at the age of 5 and had some recollection that Alice in Wonderland had a related issue of tears and flooding, and she was determined that we would not die in the whirlpool of my tears.

My sister dragged the large trash can across the room to the door and flipped it upside down. The door had window panes in its upper half, and my sister climbed on the trashcan to see if she could break a window. She first tried with her shoe, and when that failed, she turned to our trusty shovel, which had gotten us into this mess to begin with, and used it to smash the windows.

A neighbor happened by when my sister had gotten her little body halfway out of the window and ran to get my mother to help. By the time my mother had arrived my sister was still half way out the window- but it was clear that the shards of glass had shredded her little arms so that she was bleeding everywhere. Ultimately the physical injuries were minor, I was retrieved from the drain, and her wounds were bandaged.

It took my sister a long time before she was ok with being behind closed door- understandably this was a fright that endured. But for me, it was my first brush with heroism, and was the first step in a lifetime of admiration that I have for my sister whose selflessness and bravery continue throughout her life. I knew as a child that I was secure- I felt that I had my own guardian angel incarnate with me, who would do whatever she could in her power to keep me safe and make things right. Sometimes the most important heroes are the everyday people in our lives who go above and beyond, do what’s right even if it hurts them, and are determined to fight to help people.