“The hero is one who kindles a great light in the world, who sets up blazing torches in the dark streets of life for men to see by.” ~Felix Adler
I was struck this week by the lives of people who go about their days doing remarkable things in an unremarkable way. They are not motivated by reward, or tributes, they do not earn golden trophies or accolades, but make meaningful contributions to the lives of others with no expectations. Imagine you lost your job. Could you see yourself deciding to keep on doing the work, without pay? Paula Saldana is that hero. She used to work for Planned Parenthood in Texas, until politics closed 76 clinics, and she lost her job. Now she volunteers with a non-profit organization, traveling to poor rural communities, educating women about their health, birth control and other important information. In Texas, politics threatens the health of women, limiting their access to birth control and cancer screenings. They are already seeing women turning to life-threatening and unsafe abortions. Saldana does the unpaid work because she sees the difference that information makes in the lives of others.
This week my high school community lost a beloved hero. As a student Tony Pickersgill was one of a family of boys who attended the school. He excelled in sports as a cricketer and was a leader in the Boy Scouts, earning the honored Queen’s Scout badge. After he graduated he continued to be involved in the school, and whenever he could he gave opportunities to other students by providing jobs. Over 30 years ago he was named Chairman of the Board, and was influential in helping the school achieve success in football (aka soccer), finally winning the DaCosta Cup, a goal which had eluded them for years. Despite his status and place in society, Tony was approachable and humble, not a loud self-aggrandizing type. In a world where so many people make sure you know about each and every one of their accomplishments and good deeds, he was a breath of fresh air.
Who are the quiet heroes in your midst? Who does good deeds without drawing attention to themselves, or works for change without an expectation of reward? When you open up your heart to the suffering of others, there are many opportunities to make a difference in our world. At times we are so focused on our own troubles we neglect to see the misery around us. According to the Dalai Lama “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Compassion begins with truly seeing others, listening to their stories, trying to understand what hurdles they have to face.
Tomorrow is International Women’s Day. If you want to talk about heroes, look around you at the hard working women who go about their personal life making daily sacrifices to ensure the wellbeing of their families. So many women take bad situations and create hope and possibilities for their children. This year the focus of IWD is on eliminating violence against women. The United Nations reports that one in three women will experience violence against them in their lifetime. In some parts of the world, rape is an act of war which is perpetrated on women and young girls, resulting in lifelong physical and psychological scars for those who survive. Yet there are heroes among them.
In the middle of the Congo, a land where women and girls have been subjected to horrific violence, there is a place called the City of Joy, a sanctuary of healing and love, where survivors of those atrocities can come together to help each other, to grow hope and opportunities in the place of anguish and terror. Yet we never hear about these heroes, the ones who seek to help others despite their own pain.
Who are the heroes in your midst? Who is struggling to make a difference in your community? And who is doing it with no thought of reward? So often we do good out of our own sense of ego, fluffing up with pride as we recount the good we have done for others, as if piling up brownie points, securing an everlasting reward. That is not heroic, for that is all about us. With true compassion, true caring for others, the reward comes in their happiness, which in turn creates our own.
I end with a little verse that I wrote:
I sing a song for the quiet heroes
For those who don’t toot their own horn
Who do what is right because of their conscience
And sleep well from night until morn.
Sleep well Tony!
Have a great weekend family!