We hear the phrase “unsung hero” a lot, but I don’t know that we spend a lot of time thinking about what that means, exactly. It doesn’t always mean someone who carried a child out of aburning building or rescued a stranger from rising floodwaters, though it certainly could. But then again, those kinds of heroes generally are “sung”, and quite rightly so. We all recognize this sort of heroics, and we assign the appropriate value to it, most of the time.
So what kind of hero would be unsung? What sort of heroism goes unnoticed or, at least, unacknowledged? I think we all see this on a daily basis, whether we realize it or not. The key is in your definition of “hero”.
To me, a hero is someone who makes your decaf coffee for you every morning after you start working on their floor, even though you are the only one who drinks it and they really don’t know you all that well, and there’s absolutely no reward in it for them. It’s someone who you’ve never met and don’t know, but who still leaves you a Facebook message calling you “my sweet friend” and hoping that whatever sorrow you’re experiencing will be less tomorrow. It’s someone you haven’t seen in twenty years and haven’t spoken with much in that time, but who still cares about you and your life and lets you know that.
It’s someone who makes dinner for you without being asked, just because. It’s someone who washes the dishes and cleans up the kitchen and bathroom without being told. It’s someone who lets you go first at a four-way stop, though it’s clearly their turn. It’s someone who reaches for the last gallon of milk at the grocery store at the same time you do, then laughs and says “no, you take it, it’s fine.”
Someone who always listens to your problems, though they have their own that may be more serious and they know there’s nothing they can do to help – but they know you have to talk. Someone who doesn’t feel well and is having a really bad day, but who brings you a candy bar for absolutely no reason and without expecting anything in return, just because they know you like that particular candy bar. Someone who remembers that dishes can mysteriously disappear sometimes after being washed in the office dishwasher, and always brings yours to you so that doesn’t happen.
Someone who does an evaluation and report for your firm and doesn’t bill, yet still has it to you before you actually needed it, making your life infinitely easier. Someone who is assigned a project and always does it immediately, and to the best of their ability. Someone who sees that you have tabs in a document you gave them to copy, and duplicates those tabs in the copy without being asked to do so. Someone who goes above and beyond, not because they will be rewarded, but because that’s who they are.
Someone who slips their hand into yours and says, “I love you, Mommy,” not fifteen minutes after you grounded them for not cleaning their room. Someone who defends you no matter what, because they love you, though they may well turn to you when everyone else is gone and say, “Wow, I can’t believe you said/did that, that’s nuts.”
Someone who writes a blog entry that reaches inside you and grabs your heart and twists it, turns it inside out, shakes out all the repressed emotion, then puts it back and pats it gently – even though that person doesn’t know you, or that you’ll be reading.
Someone who spends decades of his life writing novels that change your life, and in the last years, when he knows he’s dying, pours enormous amounts of his flagging energy into making sure that someone, at some point, will be able to finish the series.
Someone who walks down the hall singing at the top of her voice, maybe even does a little dance, making you smile and even laugh when you thought all you had in you that day were frowns and growls.
Someone who understands that you’re hurting and things are hard, but who nevertheless gently and lovingly expects you to get up and do what you have to, because they have faith in you and expect nothing less than greatness from you – and by having that faith in you, inspires and encourages you to be more than you thought you could be.
Someone who will tell you the things that are hard to hear, in a way that takes the hurt and makes it a demonstration of their love – love you never earned and don’t deserve, but they give it to you anyway. Someone who trusts you to tell them the truth and respects and values your advice, because they respect and value you.
Someone who spends months planning ways in which they can use the month of December to give time and energy to their community, because they want this season to be about giving to other people in ways that count.
I could probably go on all day, because there are thousands if not millions of ways in which people touch our lives every day. Small ways, ways that are so quick and fleeting that we could easily miss them if we weren’t paying attention – and we all too often do. Most of these things don’t really get acknowledged – we might say thanks, but we don’t say, “Thanks, you have truly enriched my life and made my world a better place.” We might think it, or we might not, because these things seem so small.
But small things add up. Small things matter. On an especially bad day, it can often be that small thing that takes the wind out of depression’s sails and helps you get your feet back on the path to sanity. So today, I think I’ll take the time and trouble to notice these things, and to sing about them. Every hero deserves a song.