Friday, February 24, 2006

99: “My Heroes”

Just before I post a somewhat recollective centenary essay I thought a little change of pace might be in order.

We should, for clarification, examine the term “hero-worship”. It applies here, but not beyond the first definition below:

he·ro-wor·ship (hîr'ō-wûr'shĭp)
tr.v., -shiped or -shipped, -ship·ing or -ship·ping, -ships or -ships.
1. To revere as an ideal.
2. To adulate.
he'ro-wor'ship·er n.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2004, 2000 by
Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

I write in terms of revering as an ideal, certain individuals, and groups of people who strike me as being heroic.

This blogger takes an occasional class at the local campus of Harrisburg Area Community College. One of the more pleasant occurrences on taking the classes there was discovering my preconceived negative notion about the current younger generation that made up most of the student population was totally out of whack.

The school draws largely from the non-traditional student. It has a huge emphasis on nursing and graduates a fairly large class of nurses every term. There are other concentrations as well: law enforcement, general liberal arts, education, business, technical, and so on. By non-traditional, I mean returning students who have either delayed or had interrupted their college start, retrainees, and servicemen and women (an amazing number of women in that category!). Those veterans who are taking courses may be recently discharged, trying to get a good start on college, or they may be wounded vets preparing for life after the service.

This school is serious about its studies, too. Included among the activities and clubs is a fraternity/sorority of sorts, called Phi Theta Kappa. It is the two year college version of Phi Beta Kappa. It is an international honor society that requires a 3.2 or higher cumulative average after one semester (minimum 12 hours), and regular service to the school and/or community.

I have not done any statistical analysis, but the local campus of HACC (which has three other satellite campuses and a beautiful main campus), has a pretty high membership rate in PTK among its students.

Recently, as this blogger has reached past middle age, medical needs require frequent stops at the hospital for tests, and exams. I frequently meet young people who might, perhaps, be a lab tech who would draw a blood sample, or an x-ray technician, or a nurse, and I usually muster the courage to ask where they went to school. I met one recently who went to the same school I do. I told her how I had developed heroes among my classmates. She chuckled and asked what I meant.

My answer was to describe one young woman who has over half a dozen children; her husband runs his own business; she is an officer in Phi Theta Kappa. I said I was astounded at the number of young mothers, both single and otherwise, who attend that school, who also work at least part time – some even have their own businesses! And many of them make it into Phi Theta Kappa. Many of the young men are employed full time, and fitting a near full course load into their schedule, while supporting and raising a family.

She didn’t say much, just busied herself in her box of bottles, needles, gauze and tape, and alcohol swabs. I asked her if she fit that category, she thought a moment and admitted she did. She had one child, and her husband was just finishing up a 15 month tour with the Army, somewhere between Ramadi and the Iraqi-Syrian Border. She still wouldn’t look up, and I think I was somewhat glad, as I told her, with tears in my eyes, “You are one of my heroes, and so is your husband.”

This group of young people absolutely floor me. My generation was somewhat selfish, self-centered, and self-absorbed. These souls are centered, focused, ambitious, and undeterred by the obstacles, and impediments life constantly throws in our way.

She said she wanted to be a nurse, but the course of study was simply too much with her son at home and her husband away, so she backed off and took work as a lab tech. She’s still taking classes though. I’d wager my next retirement check that within two years, she graduates and is capped as a nurse. I never got her name, but I’d love to attend that ceremony and be among those who applaud the loudest.

My nephew is married to a wonderful woman, and they are blessed with a beautiful little girl, almost two years old. They live in Germany where he is based with the Air Force. She teaches at the dependent school, and is a veteran in her own right. These two have a plan. And they are sticking with it. He has recently crossed onto the downhill side of a twenty year hitch. He loves what he does, and they both adore living in Germany, but would love to come home, too. When they do, they visit here, and we continue to learn even more how wonderfully heroic they are.

One of my “other” heroes, Theodore Roosevelt, once said:

"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

I used to think this younger generation selfish, and self-abusive. I used to fear for the future of my country because of the image of the younger people. And, in the course of my years, I’ve seen many of those young people who are not among my heroes. But the future of the nation will not be in their hands, it will be in the hands of my heroes. I thank God for them.

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