What does it really mean to be a fallen hero? For most of us, it means someone who gave their lives to protect us, albeit in war, in massacres, or in unfortunate incidents that we carry with us for the rest of our lives. I remember hearing stories of family that died in many different wars just so that we could have the freedoms that we live with today. Unfortunately, many of those freedoms are under attack. The Black Lives Matter movement is screaming to have monuments torn down that are reminders of the past. While there needs to be an agreement that we are all equal, my fear is that we are taking down history and will repeat it if we aren’t careful. The anger levels in this country are high. The division is something that is more pronounced than ever. The actions of many are causing many to have tensions not easily remedied.
One of my personal fallen heroes has nothing to do with the movement. She was in her late twenties, the mother of three, a beautiful, vivacious young woman who loved rap, her children, her church family, and had an unwavering faith in God. She attacked cancer as vigorously as it attacked her. She wouldn’t let the difficulty of recovery keep her from inspiring others. Melissa gave a beacon of hope to everyone she met. She would smile and her smile would light up the darkest and dreariest of rooms. You could almost see rays of light and life bounce off her as if it were being shared with you. Her children are biracial. They are beautiful, bright, kind, and full of life and love. She made sure that the kids knew that she was there for them every step of the way. Her tenacity and spirit made her a warrior that everyone who knew her learned from. Being a hero comes in many different forms. She may not have gone done fighting to save anyone but herself but she gave everyone who knew her the lesson of love, faith, determination, and hope. Not every battle with diseases can be won but the war for one’s soul doesn’t have to die with the body.
Then there are people in my life who I never had the privilege of meeting but I heard their stories. The men and women who perished in the terrorist attacks of 9-11 will forever be etched in my memory. When you see people who fell to their deaths out of the twin towers and the rescuers who sacrificed their lives to help others survive the ordeal, it lets you see just how selfless and far-reaching their sacrifices were. There are families who were forced to go on without the help of their loved ones who were taken far too soon from them. Every time I see Ground Zero, I’m reminded that nothing in this life is guaranteed. The actions of a few can have long term impacts. The men and women who have perished making those sacrifices are all a part of something bigger than we can imagine.
When a person is an example of fighting a difficult fight, they become their own hero. Faith is an integral part of many people’s journeys. I know for me, my faith says that those who repent and ask for forgiveness will be granted forgiveness. Accepting God is the way to the Light. That’s okay if you don’t believe this. I can’t tell you what’s right for you. But for me, the belief that there is a force out there that shows the possibility of a life that I can’t even begin to fathom after death, well, to me, that’s worth believing.
My Dad was a Lutheran minister. I’ve started shying away from talking about my faith more because I don’t want to offend people but the truth is that my faith has gotten me through some very difficult times. When my Dad was fighting a brain tumor, everything was jumbled. This was my hero. He was there for me throughout so many instances in my life where others wanted to give up on me. He fought battles that I never knew on my behalf. He knew that I wasn’t perfect and he loved me enough to accept me for who I am. Dad wanted me to never forget that God was in control. While I knew this intellectually, emotionally was a different story. You see, around the time that my dad got sick, I was laid off of my job from Habitat for Humanity. At first, I was stunned. I came home and Dad said that it would be okay. I knew it wouldn’t. I had already lost children, a marriage, now my job, and Dad was sick and I knew it. I just didn’t know how sick. For two years, my parents and I were told that my father had Parkinson’s Disease. We had gone to a very reputable research hospital and the head of Neurology had my father walk down the hall, didn’t bother to do a CT scan or an MRI. Instead, he had him walk down the hall and the doctor said “Yep it’s Parkinson’s”. The entire time it was a Stage IV glioma. For two years, we treated his cancer for Parkinson’s. Dad started collapsing. He was getting things jumbled in his head and eventually couldn’t walk. His voice had disappeared and we thought he had permanent laryngitis. That wasn’t the case it was cancer in disguise. When we finally got the correct diagnosis, Dad couldn’t talk but he had tears in his eyes. I will never know all the thoughts he dealt with because he was robbed of the opportunity to speak while he could. But Dad didn’t give up until the very end. And even then, the day my father died, I saw him look up with such a gleam in his eyes. He was truly happy. He died in my arms. But at that moment, I was so blessed to be able to experience that transition because it told me that there was something greater than I could ever understand until it was my turn. That was an incredible gift that I was blessed with. There is no doubt in my mind that my dad, who fell to cancer, is standing over me, keeping watch, and helping to be the voice of reason when I need it most.
I’ve had a lot of role models who have fallen not only in the hero category but also in the inspirational categories. They have fought diseases, corruption, racial injustices, disability injustices, for equality in the LGBTQ communities and beyond. Our soldiers are constantly fighting to keep us all safe and free. Some do lose their lives by giving their service but to them, the sacrifices are worth it. It takes a very special person to give the ultimate sacrifice. There is a level of honor that can’t be bottled with people who possess this kind of strength. My hope for all of you is that you don’t take those who are your own heroes, for granted. Every day is a gift. Each connection that we make has the potential to impact our lives for the better if we let them. To the families that have lost their fallen heroes, you aren’t alone. There are many who are dealing with grief and raw emotions. Nothing will bring back our loved ones except memories. I hope we can use the memories to help inspire others so that this world can be united in peace and equality. Never forget your own worth. Others may look to you for inspiration and you may not even realize the significance of your own actions. What’s important is that we learn from those who have fallen. They didn’t let fear keep them from fighting for what they believe in. They chose dignity. Not everyone will fall. But everyone has a choice to be seen with honor and integrity. That’s worth respect.