I want to tell you about a couple of my heroes, but first, I want to try and define what hero means. It’s a word we throw around way too casually and award way too easily. We call athletes. movie stars, and politicians heroes when in many cases, there’s nothing heroic about them. Heroism isn’t based on popularity; in fact, more often there’s an inverse relationship between the two.
Heroes don’t go around talking about it. Most of the time, they aren’t even aware that they are heroes.
I know I’m not a hero. Yes, I served in the military during a war, and yes, I was technically in a combat zone and I have a medal to prove it. I made sacrifices for my country, sacrifices of time with my family, of wages not earned, and opportunities missed due to my obligations, but I’m not a hero. I made a choice to serve, and there was a cost, like not being there for the birth of my youngest son, and while I do not regret that choice, and am proud to have done so, I don’t feel like a hero.
I was a single father to my kids for a lot of years. Again, I sacrificed, I worked, I struggled, and I fought to be the best father I could be for them, but that doesn’t make me a hero either. They were my kids, and my responsibility.
So what does it take to be a hero? Well, let me introduce you to a couple of my friends that I consider to be heroes, and maybe we’ll figure out the answer together. Neither one of the ladies I’m about to talk about know I’m writing this article, and I’d put cash money on them not considering themselves as heroes. In fact, I’ll bet you double or nothing that they will be mildly embarrassed to be called heroes. But to me, they exemplify everything that is heroic in humankind.
She also lost a son, Henry, to drug addiction. The circumstances surrounding Henry’s death are muddled, and despite a nearly incapacitating grief, Katie has fought long and hard to see that the people involved face justice. She’s done so at great personal cost to herself and her family, and in spite of heavy opposition from our local government. She is continuing to fight, not just to get justice for her son Henry, but to get the local law enforcement community to take drug overdose deaths seriously, and treat them as a crime, instead of ignoring them.
But this fight is not why she’s one of my heroes. I would expect nothing less from any parent who has lost a child. What makes her a hero is that she has gone a step further in her fight, and instead of just fighting for Henry, she’s fighting for other drug addicted kids. She, along with her family, has launched a charitable organization, Henry’s Fund, dedicated to helping kids break free from addiction by offering scholarships for inpatient treatment, building support networks for recovering addicts, and by becoming a voice for the youthful addicts, often considered ‘unattractive victims’ by law enforcement agencies.
Instead of getting as far away from any reminders of what happened to Henry, Katie has chosen the opposite course. When so many well meaning people told her to let her pain go and ‘get over it,’ she chose instead to embrace that pain and use it to fuel an outreach to save other mothers from having to go through the same sense of loss she has to deal with on a daily basis.
She is taking the destruction of her son’s life and, melding it with her pain, turning it into a creative force for the preservation of life.
Kathy Wolff is another friend of mine. I met her when my kids were going to grade school and she was on the PTA. My first impressions of her were of a woman with boundless energy and an unshakable good humor. What I didn’t know was that both of those qualities were about to be put to the test. Kathy and her husband Mark had three kids, two daughters, who became friends with my daughters, and a younger son named Graham. who played football for the community team. One day as I was visiting practice, I was told that Graham had left practice early a couple of days before, and had to be taken to the hospital. The word came back that he had been diagnosed with a nasty form of brain cancer.
Just over a year later, he was gone, 8 days shy of his 9th birthday.
These are the events in life that make it very hard to believe in a benevolent God. I don’t know what private hell Kathy and Mark went through. I do know that the pain is still there, still fresh, and still staggeringly huge. It’s with her from the time she wakes up in the morning until the time she falls asleep at night. Yet like Katie, Kathy is not hiding from the pain, as if such a thing were possible. And her faith is not shaken. She constantly signs posts and messages with the verse Genesis 50:20. It says:
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (ESV)
Kathy believes that Graham’s life served a purpose, and that his death also served an even greater purpose. She has dedicated herself to a campaign to eradicate childhood cancer. A little known fact about cancer research is that the vast majority of funding goes to adult cancer research, not children’s cancer. You may see pictures of kids during the fundraising drives, but check the fine print; research for pediatric cancer doesn’t get much funding. Kathy means to change that. Through her, I learned about St. Baldrick’s, a non profit that raises money specifically for research into treatments for pediatric cancers. Like Katie, instead of running away from her pain, Kathy is using it to save others from going through what she’s gone through.
And that makes her a hero. Any parent would walk through a lake of fire to rescue their own child; how many would walk through that same lake to save somebody else’s child? To me, that’s what being a hero is all about.