The other day I walked past the main downtown post office and saw a sign in the window that caught my attention. My first reaction was to tweet: Sign at the post office today: “Heroes work here”. As 9/11 approaches it made me think that the PO undervalues the word hero.
I spent the following twelve hours regretting that tweet. Who am I to say who is a hero or not? I don’t think that anyone would dispute that the police and firefighters of 9/11 were incredible heroes but that does not mean that there are not equally heroic people working at the post office. My sincere apologies to you all.
It made me think, what is a hero anyway? When I think back in my own life, who are the heroes I have known? My parents are my personal heroes; they made enormous sacrifices to ensure I had the best possible education so that I could rise beyond the poverty they had grown up with.
But the greatest hero I ever knew was Doug Gall.
Due to an accident at his birth, Doug was born physically and mentally challenged but he was not about to let that stop him. He had never read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s words that “work was dignity, and the only dignity” but that was the way he lived his life. For Doug it was important to contribute to his family by working. He worked a few days a week in a sheltered workshop and on his days off, he recycled bottles from his neighbours and from people at his church.
One day, I ran into Doug at the local vet. I was there with the family cat, Three Bucks, and he was there collecting bottles. He told me that he was collecting too much for the local Safeway to recycle and that he had to take his bottles to a bottle depot. He asked me if I would become one of ‘his drivers’. I was happy to help out and once every two or three weeks, I would drive to his house, load up my car with meticulously cleaned bottles and drive them to the depot. We got into a routine of having lunch after our work was done.
We spent a lot of time talking and I was amazed to find that for someone who was labelled as mentally challenged, Doug had a huge reservoir of wisdom. He would sometimes say things that I would think about for weeks after.
Over a period of two or three years, Doug’s condition deteriorated and the pain that he suffered escalated. But he persevered in his recycling up until about six weeks prior to this death at age forty. His ashes were scattered in the garden of the church he loved so much.
To me, Doug was a hero because he was determined to do what he believed to be the right thing—contribute financially to his family—despite the almost overwhelming obstacles of his increasing physical and mental handicaps.
As I write this, I believe that the memory of Doug unconsciously influenced my creation of Cal Rogan. I wanted a hero who was determined to do the right thing despite having an overwhelming obstacle to overcome. And, as an aside, the sacrifice made by Cal’s mother to ensure that he has a good education, mirrors that of my other heroes, Florrie and Phil French.
Heroes really are all around us. Find them. Celebrate them. Write about them.
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Glenn Starkey · September 23, 2011 at 2:28 pm
Good article. As I read it, I was reminded of a conversation with a young boy while I was a police officer. He stated something to the effect of how we, police officers, were brave, and heroes, and were not afraid of anything. His father, a non-physical appearing type, was standing nearby and had an expression which told me he wished his son would see him in the same manner.
I told the boy that his father was the real hero because he went to work each day even when he didn’t want to, that he provided for his family and protected them, and that he did so because he loved them.
The boy looked at his father, smiled, and appeared to see him differently than before. When they left, the father’s eyes and his nod expressed his gratitude.
It made me feel good for many reasons.
Thanks for the article.
Robert P. French · September 23, 2011 at 7:15 pm
Thanks Glenn. I suspect you made a big difference for that boy.
Jaye · October 11, 2011 at 3:38 pm
What a beautiful post, Robert. You and Doug were lucky to find each other. Thank you for sharing this.
Robert Ballantyne · November 12, 2011 at 9:11 am
Yes! Everyone we meet is a survivor. I’ve found that if you listen to what people have to say about how they cope and what they have discovered in their journey, everyone has great wisdom to offer. We expect our leaders, and those who are lucky enough to have been born with great gifts, to be the ones to provide the most valuable insights. And many do. But their view of life is only from their unique point of view. There is much to be learned from all the other people who surround us. This day has never happened before. As far as we know, there are only the 7 billion of us to experience it. It will be an amazing shared day. And if we want, it could be a wonderful adventure.
Robert P. French · November 12, 2011 at 11:06 am
Thanks, Robert for adding that inspiring comment. In researching Junkie I met some fascinating people, addicts and alcoholics, from whom I learned a lot.
K.D. McCrite · December 21, 2011 at 11:23 am
Thank you for such a lovely, touching post. Heroes are all around us, every day, in so many ways. Thank you again for the reminder.