Friday, January 25, 2013

What makes a hero?

I remember growing up who my heroes were, men like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Perhaps a fictional character like Spiderman or Batman and for sure my dad, a smattering of uncles and most definitely my grandfather. Now THERE was a bonafide hero! A man who, even when I caught up to his towering height and surpassed him, loomed larger than life, at least in my eyes. He never swore in front of me, or other kids, until I suppose he felt like I was old enough to swear myself. He served during WWII but never asked for any recognition of his service. In fact he rarely even talked about the War. He was a man who knew how to relax and taught me how to garden and fish and took me when the opportunity presented itself. He inspired me to work on my own vehicles and be as self sufficient as possible. He taught me how to go on a bike ride, not to ride a bike, but how to enjoy the ride. He never got rich monetarily despite his efforts to scratch off every instant lottery ticket he could get his hands on, but he lived a life rich in love and those whom loved him. He stayed married and faithful to my grandmother for a very long time and never said an unkind word to her, or about her. If ever there was one person who taught me how to be a man and how to love, I can't think of a better example...

As I grew older I never really got into sports but I did watch basketball and even played a little in school. I remember players like “Magic” Johnson, Isaiah Thomas, Kareem Abdul Jabar and Michael Jordan. Those were some GREAT players! I can't say that I ever looked on them as heroes though, just great ball players. As I got older these players retired and new ones took their places, players who made more money and got more endorsements deals and quite frankly could never achieve the level of mastery of the game as those before them. And when did Pro basketball players become such good actors falling all over the floor in dramatic fashion trying to “draw the foul”? No, these are not heroes, at least not when they are playing the game. I know that a lot of professional athletes do a lot of great work outside their profession but the mere fact that they are athletes does not, in my mind, make them heroes.

Now we have entered the era where “performance enhancing drugs (steroids)” seem to have become the norm, or at LEAST far too commonplace. Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Lance Armstrong... WHAT?!? Lance ARMSTRONG??? no... Not seven time Tour de France champion and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong. Not the man who I admired for not only beating cancer but going on to win races afterward. Not the guy I looked up to because he showed me what could be accomplished after fighting cancer. Damn you Lance! That HURT! I know that the bible teaches forgiveness and that we are forgiven, but dude... I'm not sure I can forgive you. I have struggled since my transplant to put my life back together, to find some sense of purpose, to retain those dreams I had before - and in you I saw someone who wouldn't let cancer get in the way of their dreams. And you denied the allegations, vehemently and repeatedly. Only it was a lie... Now I find myself rethinking everything about where I'm going cause ya see, I don't DO drugs. I didn't even want to take the medications the doctors ordered me to take. After my splenectomy I stopped taking the pain pills early because I didn't want to become addicted. At every turn I ask the doctors when I can start weaning off the meds I'm on (I'm down to ONE!). The fact that you would do such a thing is unconscionable, unfathomable to me. How COULD YOU?!? Forget the cycling fans, how could you put up such a front as a cancer warrior and then show the world that it was all built on a foundation of cards? I don't even know how to separate the cancer warrior Lance from the doping Lance...  Was any of it real?

I guess it's time to take a step back and really look at who we look up to and why, and perhaps look at who our kids look up to and why. As a cancer survivor I'll look to those who faced the unknown with bravery, courage and an eye toward the future. As a man I'll look to those who helped mold me into the man I have become like my grandfather, my father and my uncles. As a father I'll start taking a hard look at who my sons and daughter look up to and make sure they are not only worth looking up to but that my children know how to really pick a hero. As a Christian I'll try, Lance, to find forgiveness in my heart but I don't think that cycling should let you back in. I think Lance needs to take a good hard look at who he is, and who he wants to be. He's got a long hard road ahead and by finally fessing up to the doping he has pedaled the first stage but there will surely be many more and the terrain will be challenging.  I wish him the best of luck and I hope he has found his courage and a more than a little humility, he's going to need it...

As for myself piecing my life back together post-transplant, it is proving difficult, heroes or no heroes. Ultimately, I think we have to look inside for our heroes. I never asked to be a hero to anyone, but then again I guess the best heroes never really did either. What do you think makes a great hero?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Have a slice of humble pie...

The other day, after a long day of running errands, the boys and I stopped at our favorite burger joint for some dinner before we headed for home. We were hungry and although it wasn't really “dinner time” yet, we had skipped lunch. We pulled into Sonic and placed our order and it took a really long time for it to come out and when it did it was wrong. I knew it was wrong because he tried to hand me a drink and we hadn't ordered any drinks. I sent him away with it never having looked in the bags at the food, which as it turns out was right and they had just placed another order's drink with our food. Long story short in the correcting of the orders, ours and another car's, a manager brought out a duplicate order and thrust it in my face with an exhausted forced smile, apparently her way of making things right with me... So now the three of us had four very large burgers, four breakfast burritos and several extra orders of fries and tater tots. In an effort to get on with our meal and sensing that she wasn't about to take the food back (clearly what to do with all this food was now MY problem) I grabbed all four bags and got back into the truck. I doled out what each of my sons had ordered as well as mine and we began to eat, FINALLY!

As we sat there listening to the radio I mulled over what I was going to do with the extra food, I'm NOT one to throw away food, especially GOOD food! But we (Sarah and I) have been trying to eat smarter and healthier so I was already going against my better judgment by eating fast food and I certainly wasn't about to have the three of us eating more than twice the food we really NEEDED. So, what to do... At this time I started thinking of who could really use the food and I remembered that we were in Modesto and there is a rather significant homeless population there. A light bulb turned on over my head - I was going to drive around and give this food to someone who REALLY needed it! I shared my plan with the boys and they agreed it was a Grand Plan™ so we ate our food and I got on my fancy “smart phone” and posted to FaceBook a brief synopsis of what had occurred and said we were on a “Mission from God,” like the Blues Brothers of old. Then, our meal finished we were excitedly off on our quest...

We drove through the busy downtown streets of Modesto, where I had typically seen the homeless, and as it grew dark I was finding it difficult to find someone to give our bounty to. Finally I spotted someone and made the initial turn to make our delivery. Turns out that with sufficient traffic and copious one way streets and stop lights it can be rather difficult to catch up to homeless people even ones pushing a loaded shopping cart! After what seemed like an eternity and several round-about turns later I was able to find a place to stop just half a block past them as they emerged from a back alley. I jumped out of the truck, paper bags of life sustaining sustenance in hand and saw they were about to cross the road... I thought “*&#$! They're getting away!” Ok, maybe I've seen a few too many police shows and spy movies... It was dark and here I found myself trying not to scare a couple of homeless people but not wanting to miss the opportunity to help them so I held the food out to the side at arms length and (trying not to sound threatening) yelled “ARE YOU HUNGRY?!?” The woman not pushing the cart yelled back “YES!!!” and started toward me nearly half a block away. “GREAT!” I thought, “Mission accomplished!” I quickly walked toward her, arm outstretched and food in hand and as I approached I could see in the glow of a street light that she was maybe my age(-ish) and the person pushing the cart was, what appeared to be, a young man about the age of one of my sons. Their shopping cart was filled to over flowing with garbage bags filed with who knows what and there were a couple hanging off the sides of the cart. The young man had a guitar slung across his back and he stood there waiting for her to get the food from me. We met and I gave her the food and she thanked me profusely and very politely.
I turned and went back to the truck and as I looked back from about half a block away they were crossing the street and she looked at me and yelled thank you again. I can clearly remember thinking how great it felt to have helped someone truly in need. I felt good about myself and like I had perhaps taught my sons a great life lesson about taking care of those in need even if you don't know them. So then, WHY did I get in the truck and break down in tears?!? I sat there sobbing and confused as wave after wave of emotion crashed over me. My sons, God bless them, laid their hands on my shoulder to comfort me and as I regained my composure realization set in and as they asked if I was ok and what was wrong I told them it looked like a mother and her son, not much different than their mom and one of them and I felt really bad for them. I immediately started to think of what more I could do... Like I desperately needed to save these two and help them get back on their feet. My “mission” was far from over... I looked back and they were gone, vanished into the dark alley and not even a quick circling of the block would reveal their whereabouts.

The thought then crossed my mind that those two people that I had given food to could very well have been any of a number of people I know who have fallen on hard times. I thought of how close I have come in my life to being homeless and wandering the streets if it were not for the kindness of family of friends... How could this woman NOT have family or friends willing to take care of them? Willing to help them out, lend a hand...? I guess it happens, somehow, sadly, that people for whatever reason fall on hard times and perhaps they don't have anyone to turn to, or they feel embarrassed to ask. Maybe there is some mental illness that plagues her, who knows. All I know is that my “Mission from God” had turned into a slice of humble pie. Since that night I can't seem to shake the memory of what I saw. Sure, maybe my initial impressions were far from accurate. Maybe it wasn't a mother and her son but a haggard looking young couple who had each on their own left some horrible home life and found each other. Whatever their story, whatever the truth, I know that I am now thinking of ways I can help those who are really in need.

Maybe God had a mission for me and Fast Food Delivery was only the start. Who knows... So I've been thinking of ways I can help without just doling out what little money I have. I have always hated giving homeless people money, always thinking in the back of my mind that they're just going to buy booze or drugs and that certainly doesn't help. Sarah and I have had people “beg” for money before and offered them food that we had and had our offer refused. One guy even told her after he was offered a PB&J that what he really wanted was a Jumbo Jack from Jack In The Box. Good luck with that buddy... But I have been thinking of what I can do that will really help. What do they need? It's been cold here lately, like really cold not “California Cold”. Temps have dipped down into the twenties and there has been frost. These people have no home, no forced air heating system, no warm bed to sleep in... I can't even imagine what sleeping out in the cold must be like. No hot coffee in the morning, no hot shower, many don't even have anyone to snuggle with for warmth. So what can I do? I'm still mulling that one over and if anyone has any suggestions I'd LOVE to hear them. Please share them in the comments below.

Until next time I hope that you all see those who live on the fringes of our society, out in the cold of winter, in a little different light. I pray that, perhaps, you are led to do God's Work© and that you have a chance to be more like Christ. That you have the opportunity to love someone who desperately needs just that, a little love... Sure, maybe you can't turn a a few loaves and some small fish into a feast that will feed thousands, but you can make a difference with the smallest of gestures. I have seen a quote numerous times, attributed to Gandhi, and it goes like this: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” There is some conjecture as to whether or not he really said it and even some that have tried to correlate it to a longer quote. Whomever DID say it, I think there is truth in it and it's simplicity.

Be the change you want to see in the world. You may not change the world but you may just end up being the spark that ignites the inner fire of change in others. It worked for Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr. and a few brave men a couple of hundred years ago that set out to address some wrongs they perceived. They sparked a revolution that led to the birth of a great and mighty nation the like of which the world has never known.