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Saturday, April 04, 2015

Everyday Heroes

These are troubling times, but I suppose humans have been making this assertion since the origin of our species.  Certainly we have perpetuated and witnessed savagery and injustice from the beginning of human history.  The first 15 years of the 21st century AD have simply continued the trend.  But there is always hope. Hope!

When you dig into the individual lives, you learn that regular folks are often secret heroes.  Some are bearing heavy burdens, some have overcome long odds through determination, and others are true to a dream regardless of the difficulty of the path.  Here are three stories:

N:  N is 83 years old, a self-described "tough old Irish chick."  She is widowed and white-haired, but her eyes are bright and her voice is strong.  Her 50-something son, C,  lives in a "garden apartment" in the basement of her home - he has bi-polar disorder.    C had accepted treatment and was doing well - driving for Uber, coaching hockey for a youth league and volunteering at a local soup kitchen. Unfortunately, he decided that he was no longer ill and stopped taking his medication.  This is typical behavior among bipolar people - lack of insight into their own condition is part of the disease.  In short order, C became manic - driving cross-country, spending money like a drunk, talking fast and crazy,  causing consternation among his family and friends.  N has refused to banish him from her home, even though his mania is potentially dangerous - he has verbally abused and threatened his mom.  She is having trouble sleeping, her concern for her son grows daily.  She has heard from many that she needs to protect herself - "safety first" is the prime directive for folks that have mentally ill loved ones.  N is determined to continue to fulfill her maternal duty even though her son is a middle-aged man.  She projects a combination of courage and anxiousness.

E:  For his entire life, E has been dedicated to music.  He is a sideman with great talent and has played with many famous stars, particularly blues people.  His music has taken him on tour around the world, to Europe and Asia.  E is also an extremely considerate person.  He does not forget the people he cares about; he checks in on his friends faithfully, especially when they are going through a bad patch.  Now, E is going through a bad patch.  The proliferation of free digital music and the fading interest in the blues among younger people has caused gigs to dry up.  The oversupply of musicians has kept the pay scale for live club dates at 1970's levels.  Many of the famous old blues stars that E supported are retiring, or dying.  As a sideman, E has depended on others to generate work. The pickings have been slim and he can barely make ends meet.  He has resorted to selling some of his beloved instruments to pay the bills.  And yet, he has not given up on his dream of a life in music.  He has formed a band and is striving to get bookings - driving for miles into the far suburbs to find a venue that will pay a living wage (or any wage) for excellent live music. E works harder for less money.  In spite of his travails, he is the one helping others, providing support to friends, committing acts of kindness daily.

S:  S is a small businessperson, running a retail establishment. Her shop employs happy people that greet customers by name. A first-generation American, S has a bright smile and is a wonderful conversationalist.  She also has suffered terrible losses - a failed marriage, and, the most horrible thing, the death of one of her children.  This would cause most of us to struggle and withdraw, but S carries on.  She has a new partner and a new home, closer to her business.  She has grieved and survived,  Perhaps the pain is still sharp, but she doesn't show it to the people that come into her shop.  She has a cheerful greeting for everyone and her business appears to be thriving.  And here is the most impressive thing - she radiates empathy. This is a woman who has refused to buckle.

I don't think that these three people consider themselves to be especially heroic, but they are.  Perhaps many of the people we pass on the street have similar stories.  And, for some reason, this gives me hope.