The true hero

I used to say Superman was my hero. Heroes took superhuman actions for the good of the entire world, and they also had really big muscles.

I gradually understood the word “hero” to mean something else to me. Sometime in my mid-teens, I started saying my godmother was my hero. She’d demonstrated tenacity and love not in some single heroic act but in action after loving action throughout my life. Neither laser beam vision nor the ability to fly seemed especially powerful by comparison.

My relationship with my mom was more complicated, so it took me many more years to describe her as one of my heroes. Now I see her as a hero every day. I mean that literally, since this drawing of her as Thunder Thighs (together with me, and Li’l D) hangs in my living room.

thunder thighs sg Since my mom died, I’ve seen how people often shy away from talking about death and subtly encourage others to speak of the deceased only in passing platitudes. I’ve countered that by writing more about my mom, as well as by reading stories of those grieving. I want those grieving–whether after one day, one month, or one decade–to know not only that I see their grief, but also that I see the love behind their grief. I see their loved ones through the stories they share, and in so seeing become a small part of how their loved ones live on.

This feels especially important when a child dies. It’s hard to face that children can and do die. Many friends quickly fade away. I continue to believe this response is borne not of ignoble things, but of helplessness sprung from incorrectly believing that grief is an ailment to be cured, and that: This grief is stronger than me. I am powerless to fix it, which means I am useless to my friend.

It’s important to me to witness people’s love shining on after death of their loved ones, and to acknowledge that I’m moved by the people who inspired that fierce love.

I’ve been reading about now forever teenaged Nolan for a few months. I daren’t boil his life–or death–down to a sentence; you can read his mom’s blog to learn more about him.

I read Nolan’s last essay while feeding a hungry baby at 2 o’clock this morning.

Nolan’s mom, Amy, had to work to find someone who could and would grade the essay impartially. She did the work because she knew it would have been important to Nolan.

I’m glad Amy shared his essay through ugly sobs. His perspective on heroes is one the world would be better for adopting more universally … and one I must, in honor of both him and Thunder Thighs, point you toward today.

As a society, we have masked the meaning of a true hero by suggesting that they are immortals that slay monsters and soar through the skies in search for evil, while the true heroes have been in front of us our entire lives.

– Nolan Berthelette, “Nolan’s Final Essay

  1. March 8, 2015 at 5:25 am

    To anyone receiving this post twice: My apologies. WordPress (functionally) stripped this post of its categories/tags so it’s not indexed globally. I tried reposting to fix this issue. It didn’t work. Oh, well.

  2. March 8, 2015 at 5:31 am

    I am not sure I will say what I want to say very eloquently or even coherently, but I wanted to say thank you for saying all of this about the reality of grief.

    • March 8, 2015 at 5:35 am

      Hear that. This didn’t end up being quite what I wanted to say … but since I couldn’t figure out how to say that, I did my best with what I could figure out.

      Thank you for … how do I even say this? Reading and allowing this to be something more than a shout into silence. ♥

  3. March 8, 2015 at 5:41 am

    Reblogged this on The Militant Negro™.

  4. Deb
    March 8, 2015 at 6:08 am

    Thank you for this post, and for sharing Nolan’s story.

  5. March 8, 2015 at 8:49 am

    Wow. Just wow. I cannot imagine what that poor woman has endured. And Nolan wrote an EXCELLENT piece on heroism. That post broke my heart.

    • March 8, 2015 at 9:21 am

      Ditto that. It was bittersweet to read: such a joy to be allowed to see heroes from his eyes, so sad those eyes no longer see. I wish I could do anything to change that.

      • March 8, 2015 at 9:22 am

        So do I. I just can’t…imagine.

  6. March 8, 2015 at 10:18 am

    I believe I have a crack in my heart now. Thank you for sharing this, grief is terrible to ignore, terrible to depersonalize, terrible to think there is a set way to experience.

  7. March 8, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    Here at least we debase the term hero. It is very, very commonly used for athletes, and sports stars. Not heroes in my eyes. (Or at least not doing the jobs they are paid to do).
    My heroes are the people who go above and beyond. Who stand up for those with less. Who face appalling issues with courage. Courage they didn’t know they had.
    And your friend Amy is one of them.
    Hurting, bleeding, and shining a light on grief. Which never ends, but can (sometimes) be lived with.

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