You're a Hero, Whether You Know It Or Not

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Last week, I was driving back from a business trip to Savannah. As I passed through Milledgeville, I contemplated whether I could make it that last hour home without a pit stop. I decided a trip to the bathroom and some water were in order. I pulled into the next gas station, but, upon closer inspection, felt it was a little sketchy and proceeded through its parking lot to the gas station next door. It was deserted but well lit and seemed an okay place to stop - for someone who's eternally paranoid for no apparent reason about being kidnapped at a gas station.

Once inside, the clerk - as they often do - called out a greeting. I turned my head nodded and smiled a hello and headed to the ladies' room. I came out, selected my bottle of water and walked to the counter to pay. The clerk asked me how my day was. "Oh, I can't complain," I said. "How are you?" He said he was fine and as he took my credit card from me, he said, "You seem very jolly." I didn't feel particularly jolly. I'd been up since 5:45 and in the car since 3 and it was dark and I just wanted to be home with my cats. I said, "Well, I'm headed home, so maybe that's why." I chatted with him briefly about my business trip, that I lived in Athens and listened to him tell me about his friend  who lived in Athens. I wished him a good evening as I left. I wondered how many people had spoken to him during his shift.

Earlier this week, I went to the doctor. I went because they called to remind me of an appointment, and when I checked, I saw that it was on my calendar. I thought it odd given that I'd just had a physical in October, but I'm pitifully reliant on what my iPhone tells me to do, so I left work and headed over to the doctor's office. After 5 or 10 minutes of "Judge Judy" in the waiting room, the P.A. who always works with me appeared at the door. We walked to the intake room, she (sadly) weighed me, and then I sat in the chair facing her. "What are we seeing  you for today?" she asked. I sort of chuckled and said, "Actually, I don't know." Between the two of us, looking at my chart and the appointments in the system, we realized that the appointment was a six-month check up for a long-ago appointment, but that I'd been in for other reasons, rendering this particular appointment moot.

She conferred with the doctor, he agreed and wished me a Merry Christmas. She walked me to the check-out desk and made apologies. I told her it was fine. The receptionist then apologized for me being there for nothing. "That's okay," I said. "I just came by to say Merry Christmas." She looked momentarily surprised and said, "You're so kind." And I realized that she was likely expecting me to be frustrated and take it out on her. She certainly wasn't expected a smile and holiday well-wishes.

I had thought about these two incidents and blogging about them before the events of yesterday. But after the horror of what happened in Connecticut, I thought of them in a different light. Stories are emerging - as they often do amidst disasters - of teachers and staff who protected students; students who held hands and comforted one another; law enforcement and emergency professionals who arrived on the scene and immediately began to assist and provide relief. There is the iconic picture we have seen again and again of the chain of children holding each other's shoulders and shepherded by an alert-looking police officer shielding them with her outstretched arms.

What could these incidents - a conversation in a convenience store, a mistaken trip to the doctor and deeply tragic events in Connecticut - have in common? Here's what.

We commend all those people who were heroic yesterday - everyday people who did extraordinary things in the face of terror. One teacher crammed her students in the classroom bathroom and every time one of them would begin to cry, she would take their face in her hands and say, "We will be okay." And there is heroism in that. And it is to be commended and spotlighted and heralded as the hope we need to believe in humanity when trying to make sense of a senseless tragedy.

But what we need to realize is that we can be that kind of hope and humanity every day. It's likely to go unrecognized. Except by the lonely clerk who needed a smile. Or the harried receptionist who is anticipating being harassed by an angry patient. I saw on Facebook just before I sat down to write this that one of my best friends was in line at the grocery store, and when the woman in front of her saw the water colors in Kim's cart meant for her young daughter, she picked them up and paid for them. And that small deed - that $5 gift - was heroic.

Don't wait for tragedy. Don't wait for the opportunity to be a hero, to be hope and humanity, in a situation that demands it. Be hope in a situation where you have no idea how much it is needed. Find it in yourself to be patient when you don't feel it. See the need - for water colors or a smile or a kind word - where you might normally rush through. Pay for someone else's coffee. Help someone with their bags at the mall. Hold the door for the person behind you. There are broken hearts and tired souls everywhere - and there are also just average human beings whose hearts and souls will be warmed by your kindness.

Admire those who were heroes yesterday. And today, honor them by being a hero to someone else.


Sally JPA said...

Good post, Ash.

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