Every minute, in every city and town around the world, people are being heroic.
I’m not talking about pulling babies from house fires or working to develop a cure for cancer, as heroic as such feats are. No, I’m talking about subtle, ordinary, even mundane acts of kindness, patience, perseverance and generosity that don’t make headlines. But they do save lives.
As a society, we do not devote much time to discussing the everyday heroes among us. We’re shouting about what’s wrong instead of what’s right, discussing who’s to blame more than who’s worthy of praise. We need to change that and start recognizing all of the undercover angels in our midst.
These heroes are everywhere. Let me tell you about one of mine.
In first grade, nothing terrified me like reading out loud in front of my classmates. I wasn’t good at it. In fact, leaders at my previous school had told my mother they believed I wasn’t just lagging behind. They suggested I was developmentally slower than my peers.
I didn’t know what to call it or why reading didn’t click for me. I just knew I hated it. Slumped in my classroom chair, trying to disappear, I was counting down the days until a long Georgia summer would deliver nothing but sunshine and freedom.
My new teacher, Janie Adams, had other plans. She offered to tutor me in her home once school let out, determined to follow up on her suspicion that with a little extra care and focus I’d become a reader.
So every weekday that summer, my mother dropped me off at Mrs. Adams’ house, where my teacher drilled down, syllable by syllable, into the fear that was holding me back. I say fear because that’s exactly what it was.
It became clear that I didn’t need a diagnosis. I needed someone willing to slow down, pay attention and then stay by my side.
To put it another way: I needed a hero.
My hero, Mrs. Adams, gave me more than just the ability to read, which I was doing at a fifth grade level by the end of that summer. She gave me confidence. The low ceiling I didn’t even realize I’d constructed for myself was smashed into a million pieces. My world that had felt so small became vast and full of potential.
Many of our most impactful moments of heroism are experienced in private, like Mrs. Adams’ tutoring: watching our single mother work two jobs as she makes sure we have everything we need; being befriended at a new school when all we feel is alone and odd; hearing truth from a spouse who refuses to ignore our addiction any longer. These heroes are often as quiet as they are courageous.
Other brushes with heroism are brief and easy to miss: the grocery store clerk who smiles and chats with the elderly widow whose pace holds up the line; the mother who sees and then strikes up a conversation with an overwhelmed mom sitting alone on the playground; the man in the suit who learns the name and story of the man who busks outside his office each day.
These moments are tiny building blocks, the foundation of something much bigger, transformative, and downright heroic: connection.
Connection – creating it, nurturing it, multiplying it – is at the heart of all truly heroic acts. When Mrs. Adams took the time to uncover what was actually holding me back, then pushed even further to discover and deliver what I needed to overcome it, she was not just teaching me. She was connecting with me.
Whenever I share the story of Mrs. Adams, people can’t wait to tell me their own stories of everyday heroes in their lives. We all have a Mrs. Adams in our lives.
Who changed your path or gave you hope at a crossroads in your life? Do they know it? Don’t waste time: Make sure you tell them what their acts of heroism have meant to you. Thank them. Then stop and think: How can you pick up their torch? Ultimately, there is no finer way to repay your own heroes than by becoming a hero yourself.
So who do you see that needs you? What opportunities for connection have you overlooked or even just put off because of packed schedules and your harried modern life? Stop waiting for an ideal time to learn a name, extend a hand and be a friend. Your time – our time –is now.