My Hero

Faithful, strong, generous, smart, caring, witty, honest, interested and interesting – these are only some of the qualities I admired in the man who is my hero.

He would laugh when I would tell him he was my hero. He would reply, “Many people have it much worse than I do.” But I’m not sure that’s true. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when he was 30 and it took a relentless toll on his body. His eyes ceased to coordinate; for decades now, each permanently goes in a different direction. As his left side weakened, his left leg became as helpful as a sack of potatoes that he dragged around. He walked with a cane, then a walker. He fell often. His falls at work caused his employer to place him on disability while still in his 50’s. Unable to exercise, he developed arteriosclerosis, and had a heart attack. Before that, he had a bout with bladder cancer, forcing him to submit to the indignity of regular cystoscopies for the next thirty years. The MS led to poor circulation, causing peripheral neuropathy that caused nightly pain. That led to leg ulcers that wouldn’t heal, and hospital procedures to prevent infection. For years, a nurse had to change the dressing on his leg ulcers every one or two days, a painful process that took an hour.

This went on for decades. But, with quiet determination, he resisted. Most of us would have long since given up trying to walk or stand, and sunk into a wheelchair, but he was determined to retain the ability to walk, even if it was painfully slow. Many of us (at least, me!) might have slipped into bitterness, or self-pity, or depression. But there was not a hint of that. He rarely complained, and he revealed his challenges only when asked. That’s one of the reasons he was my hero.

Instead, he was interested in everyone and everything. He read widely, and used the internet to stay informed. Who needs Siri? We could ask him a question on just about any topic, and he’d have an answer. He loved history, politics, astronomy, languages, geography. He enjoyed good food, good wine, good music, and a good cigar. He loved to travel. He was an excellent photographer, until his vision and coordination made that impossible. He was a pilot in the Navy and never lost his love of aviation. He loved words, and wrote well; many a government representative has received one of his pointed letters.

When he was a freshman in college, he met the woman of his dreams, and he never looked at another woman after that. They’ve been married 62 years now. That’s another reason he’s my hero: he’s been faithful through all the ups and downs of married life, including her recent dementia.

Another person might take employment termination at the peak of his career as an invitation to seek revenge, sue for compensation, or disparage the employer. But that’s another characteristic of my hero: he didn’t carry grudges, he was quick to forgive, he saw the best in people – as long as they were trying. He had little patience with people he saw as lazy, or immoral, or cheaters. He loved the truth, and he revered honesty.

Really, the only way to explain his cheerful disposition in the face of his daily suffering is his faith. A devout Catholic, he attended daily Mass for much of his life, even when it took him a half hour to drag his limping body from his car into the pew. He didn’t blame or question God about the trials in his life. He was quick to express gratitude. He exemplified St. Paul’s observation, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.”

My hero: my father, who passed away last week at age 86. He’s exchanged his cross for a crown.