By Valerie McCarthy
I think we all - rightly so - have different definitions for a hero. I define a hero as someone who inspires me to be better and leaves a lasting, positive impact on me. My heroes seem to magically drop in, sprinkle life-changing dust on me, and then move on in their lives.
As a kid, it was my dad who seemed to have it all: drive, smarts, integrity and love… He was my hero and I wanted to grow up just like him. Thank goodness, he is still with us. And even with a fading memory, he is providing me with a guiding light.
In high school it was my tennis coach and my English teacher - both who pushed me further than I ever would on my own. In my twenties, it was Steve Jobs who thought differently, kept fighting for perfection, and changed our lives forever. In my thirties, it was a good friend who found the strength to run triathlons while she was fighting lupus, all while holding a great job and always being there for her friends.
My current hero is my step mom. She is an incredibly bright, high-energy (sometimes borderline loud), social and loving person. But what makes her a hero to me is what she is sacrificing to take care of my dad, who often can’t remember his last sentence or where the refrigerator is. I sit here on the other side of the country caught up in my own life and career that I think is so important, while she has changed her world - stopped her life in many ways - to be there for Dad. She married Dad when Dad had all of his faculties. She never saw this coming. But she found a way to make love the first priority and, as a result, the strength to do what it takes to care for him. Stimulating intellectual thought over speaker’s club and bridge gatherings are now too few and far between for her. Alone quiet time is gone. She now goes through life thinking for two when it is hard enough to think for one. She makes a huge effort, time and time again, to bring me and my siblings together with Dad - when we are not even her real family. She is exhausted but she keeps going. She keeps sacrificing. She is my hero.
Rarely do I recognize my heroes at the time that they sprinkle their dust on me. I didn’t in the case of my dad, my coach, my teacher. I was too caught up in my own world to understand what they were giving - which in these personal cases makes their impact and influence even more heroic. And I didn’t recognize my step mom when she entered into my life fifteen years ago shortly after the passing of my mom. She was simply a new friend who came with the unfortunate privilege of criticising everything from my clothes to my men to my running. But in the case of my step mom, her love is winning me over, as love should and usually does. And thankfully I am awakening to her heroism sooner than I have in the past. I can attempt to properly recognize and thank her for what I consider heroic choices. And I can try to channel her dust to make me a better person, and particularly a better daughter.