Hard Days and Heroes

I think today is a great day to talk about heroes.

No matter where you were 20 years ago today, in the years since we’ve all had a lot of living . . . Some of us got married, had kids, buried loved ones and started new - and ended old - chapters. I’m eyeballing my 50th birthday in another year and my kids have gone from a pre-schooler and a babe-in-arms to great, hairy ruffians (the pirates. How I adore them.)

I’m older, greyer and wiser and on days like today, I think about that famous Mr. Roger’s quote – “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

I have spent a good chunk of my life looking for helpers and heroes, people I could look up to and model myself after. I’ve been real lucky and found some amazing ones – men and women I am proud to know. People who have given years of their lives to service and sacrifice, who have passion, vision and drive, whose empathy and humanity are their greatest qualities. I’m related to some of them, some of them are older – there are a couple who are embarrassingly younger – and each one of them had a moment where I swear the heavens opened, I heard a glissando of harps and voice said “That one there. That’s a good ‘un.” (Ok. So my version of the Heavenly Host sounds suspiciously like Andy Capp. Don’t judge me). In one case, she was sitting in a hospital bed, blonde and dainty, the first time I met her. In another, his deep voice boomed “We got to put the bull gear in the heifer shaft!” – at a Parliament Hill cocktail party. . . My kinda guy.

But one of my biggest heroes was my grandmother, Alice. She was born in 1922 in Saskatchewan but grew up in The Peace region of Alberta, in a homestead with two rooms. She went on to teach in a one-room school and left everything and everyone she knew behind to get her teacher’s certificate in Ontario at the University of Toronto, just after the Second World War. She didn’t have a soul out East, no one but an older brother, an RCAF pilot who would crash to his death in a flying accident just a few years later. She met a leather-lunged quartermaster, married him – again, on her own – and started having babies and didn’t stop until she’d collected eight. She wasn’t very big and if you saw her in a crowd, you wouldn’t look at her twice – she didn’t have poise, she wasn’t elegant, her manners were comfortable and homely. The things I remember most about her are her glowing faith, how hard she worked, her curiosity, her ability to spout poetry at any moment and the brightness of her smile - how her eyes would disappear into the creases of her cheeks.

Gramma had seen a lot of life – she saw 9/11. She left us in 2007 but in my head, she’s never been very far away. We live with our heroes long after they leave – they have a way of imprinting on us and the best of them becomes the filter we use to see the world around us. When I’m faced with a situation that frightens me – and starting my journey as a farmer and a shepherd scared the ever-loving bejayzees right out of me – I think of my Grandmother, walking the streets of a big city she was a stranger to on a cold night in December with Christmas around the corner. I’m sure she was lonely but that’s not what she told me  – instead, she said she was grateful. As she stood on a dark and cold sidewalk, alone while the snow spun around her, she was grateful for all the people in their grand and modest homes who had left their window curtains open and their living room lights on so she could enjoy Christmas with them.

When the terror happens, look for the ones who are helping. Turn your eyes not to the surrounding darkness but to the corners of light – they’re there, I promise. When fear claws at you, look to see who you might be able to help. When you feel your toes curling around the edge of change, that’s when we need our heroes to inspire us to courage . . . And never forget that in that step into the unknown - that leap of faith - if we’re lucky, we may become a hero to someone else.