HERO: My Beautiful Wife, Stephanie

by Everett Moran

56, Port Townsend, WA

My beautiful wife, Stephanie, consented to marry me eight years ago. She is the very definition of character, having been raised in poverty by abusive parents and step-parents. While her siblings struggled with violent anger and substance abuse, Stephanie decided as a teenager that she was not going to live that way. She put herself through school, raised two children virtually alone, while working two jobs to make ends meet. Her now grown children are a testament to their mother’s thoughtful and balanced approach to parenting – nurturing, but tough enough to encourage self-reliance and achievement.

While her siblings struggled with violent anger and substance abuse, Stephanie decided as a teenager that she was not going to live that way.


Stephanie seldom misses an opportunity to make the world around her just a little bit better, from regularly patrolling our road to pick up trash, to providing backpacks with necessities for the homeless, to providing books and pajamas for foster children (because she remembers what it was like to be plucked from her home and placed in foster care with nothing but the clothes on her back). She has organized creek cleanups, delivered meals to others in need, and provided a safe haven for women at risk… all this from a woman who was raised with no real parenting in an every-person-for-him/herself culture.

Now, that is truly heroic.

We are fortunate to now live in a community filled with heroes. Imagine Stephanie’s “disappointment” when she went to volunteer at the local Food Bank, only to be told there was a two year waiting list! To remember to step out of one’s own life to help others is hard enough for people who were brought up with all the advantages. Stephanie could easily have been consumed by her own struggles. Instead, she summoned the strength, at a very early age, to engage and to try to make a difference in the world so that others might have it better than she did.

Now, that is truly heroic.

 

HERO: Jane Goodall

by Susan Morris

Age 57. Livermore, CA

I have lots of heroes. Some I follow in the news to guide my thinking, some I call on Sunday mornings to check in, some are fictional but they inform my personal myth. But of all the real people today that I look up to, Jane Goodall has been a lasting and quiet but powerful inspiration. I have always loved her soft-spoken, unassuming way of going about things. Public voice only existed to get her what she needed. She never seemed to want to say, “this is who I am” so much as “this is what I need to do.” She wasn’t given her life with the animals. That life seems to have come to her, and she simply embraced it wholeheartedly and proceeded to pour all her time, money and talent into doing the task before her.

I love that everything she does seems to look easy;

YOU GET THE SENSE THAT SHE COULD QUIET A NOISY CROWD…JUST BY CLEARING HER THROAT.

the research, the speaking, the fundraising… When you see her she just looks quiet but powerful. You know she must be exhausted but she seems to have a connection to some limitless well that both guides her and feeds her. You get the sense that she could quiet a noisy crowd and get them to focus just by clearing her throat. “Excuse me,” she might say. “I need to go save the world for the next generation. Could I have tea and biscuits to go?”

HERO: My Husband, Tom

by Neal Biggart

Age 72. El Cajon, CA

Tom, my husband of almost 50 years, is the kindest, but also the strongest person I know.  He could be anything, but chose to be an elementary school teacher at a time when a man who went into elementary teaching was thought of as probably not able to do much else.  How wrong!! He worked in the ghetto, and provided a strong role model to lots of boys without Dads.  We celebrated over the years as they went on to High School and College.  His other passion is plants. He is a well-known landscape gardener, an orchid grower, and ceramic potter.  He doesn’t seem to need approval to fulfill his needs and passions.  I admire him, and maybe more importantly, I rely on his strength and judgement.

HERO: Jim Abott’s Parents

by John Van Cleve

Age 58. Pittsburgh, PA

Jim Abott was a terrific pitcher for the NY Yankees and other teams. He even threw a no hitter for the Yanks in 1983. What makes him really remarkable is that he only had one arm. I read an article about him many years ago and his parents raised him to believe his disability didn’t need to stop him if he had the talent and worked hard enough. I have found it pretty darn challenging to raise my kids to have courage and self confidence. I can’t imagine doing that with a disabled child. Those parents are my heroes.

HERO: Dalai Lama

by Jo Ann Hickey

Age 60. South Salem, NY

I saw the Dalai Lama in central park in 2003.  I went with a new friend, a man I had met on a dating website.  His willingness to meet in Central Park with 40,000 other people for our first date spoke volumes about his spirituality. 

We met, the park was packed.  But the incredible fact was everyone shuffled quietly in the very long lines to get inside the area where his holiness would speak. No one pushed, no one tried to cut the line, it was mostly silent or talking in soft voices.  There were many Tibetans in their traditional costumes.  Even their babies were in traditional garb, and they all looked beautiful. 

We found a spot on the lawn to spread a blanket and listen.

We found a spot on the lawn to spread a blanket and listen.  Our neighbors made room for us, all was very civilized.  And then he spoke.  For two hours, he seemed to be speaking extemporaneously.  He spoke about September 11th in a way that had not occurred to me before.  As a global citizen, he said, these things happen all over the world every day.  This does not diminish our pain, nor does it change the sorrow the world feels for us.  For those two hours I was mesmerized as was everyone in the audience.  It was so interesting and refreshing to hear someone speak for 2 hours without selling something, without pushing an agenda, without lying.  When it ended I was speechless, as was my date. 

We walked slower leaving the park, we let people pass us, everyone picked up litter.

We walked slower leaving the park, we let people pass us, everyone picked up litter. It was just an amazing day and since then I have read many of his books and delved deeper into my interest in Buddhism and the Dalai Lama.  Just thinking about him makes me smile.

 

HERO: Timothy K. Tollaksen

by Terence J. Tollaksen

Age 71. Racine, WI

My brother contracted Polio in 1949, he was 7, and I was 5.  He could walk pretty well a few years later but ran slowly with limited endurance and he was small. In the all-important world of neighborhood games in the 50’s he struggled. I could beat him but winning meant little. The effort he made, however, was several times larger than his size. Like many with these kinds of setbacks he had an inner strength coupled with determination and purpose.

In high school he was a delinquent, not a term in fashion anymore. Suddenly he turned into a scholar and an intellect; after his BA he went to Ireland for postgraduate work in English Lit, ultimately earned his masters and then went on to law school. He practiced for 8 years before he died of what was believed to be post-polio syndrome –it was still the dark ages of neurology so the diagnosis was uncertain – his courage was not.
Through his example I learned to truly appreciate effort over winning, class over boorishness.   In grade school, on the playground during the class recess, there would be 2 captains who would then alternately pick sides for a game of kickball or softball. Typically I was one.  I would choose the slowest, least athletic kids early along with some of the better athletes. We always lost.  But, the look on those kids’ faces when picked early trumped winning so much so that even the good players on the team eventually learned to appreciate their efforts and joy.

Hero is a word tossed about too freely these days; my brother was my hero.


Very early on I learned to look at people for what they are – and not for what they aren’t. I saw too many write off my brother without making an effort to know who he really was.  Each of us has value, gifts, talents, abilities, and self-worth and we all have a responsibility to cultivate those attributes in one another.  Dante has a special place waiting for those who take advantage of others, particularly when those others are at a disadvantage for whatever reason.
Hero is a word tossed about too freely these days; my brother was my hero.

 

HERO: “LETTERS” TO MARY

by Quentin Colgan

Age 72. Columbus, OH

There is little doubt that for anyone the road to character is rife with pitfalls and potholes.  But there can be even less doubt that for some the road to character is even more challenging than for most….

In response to your invitation, I would like to write about a young woman by the name of Virginia Cyr.  From the very first, her life was filled with hardships.  At the age of four the first signs of Cerebral Palsy appeared, at which point her mother abandoned the family.  From that time on Virginia lived in one institution after another; from orphanages to boarding schools, and eventually to a hospital for the elderly and infirm—even though at the time Virginia was in her early twenties.

One could certainly understand and possibly even expect that a person who went through life with so many “strikes” against her would have been angry and filled with self-pity.  But such was not the case.  Virginia was one of the most positive—even radiant—individuals one could ever hope to meet.  Without fail, people who met Virginia wished to stay in touch with her.  In fact many invited her into their homes.  She received so many invitations that she usually kept a suitcase packed for any eventuality.  Her spiritual director suggested to her that she had become God’s little hobo.  She embraced the idea wholeheartedly.  As a result, at the time of her death at the age of 24 in 1967, her list of correspondents numbered in the hundreds.

And so I love the stars, and mostly how I love to laugh with them at their brilliance and my own humble dignity.”

It was my great privilege to have been very close to Virginia—a confidant and friend.  Her road to character was forged in loneliness and formed by Faith.  Virginia had always wished to join a religious community, but because of her physical disability no community would accept her.  Instead she took vows privately.  She had a great devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus. 

In fact her journals were written as “letters” to Mary.  Those journals contain many passages astounding for their insight, beauty and humor.  Here are a few examples:

  • “Do I smile in my sleep?  I should; each heartbeat, breath, every second of life is a proclamation of God’s goodness.”
  • “I’m nearly afraid tonight, afraid of my weakness because it hides such strength.”
  • “If I live in His Love, even my tears are precious, and in complete humility I can become an Alleluia from head to toe.”
  • “The stars are out again, always, though daylight still fills the sky.  And when the stars appear soon I shall laugh at them, as I do so often.  For there they sparkle and thousands of little souls look upon them.  Yet, as Father Lucien once reminded me, ‘Not a star that floats through space will ever see God face-to-face.’  And so I love the stars, and mostly how I love to laugh with them at their brilliance and my own humble dignity.”
  • “Please send [the angel] Raphael to assist a very weary hobo, to make her love strong.  All other weakness…I welcome.”
  • “I AM that others might have life, abundantly. How or when is not for me to ask.”
  • “Please let the incessant heartache I bear be this, that Jesus has given me His Heart and my littleness cannot contain its immensity, and in its lack of universality reels but, O please, does not skip a beat.”

HERO: Four Pivotal Women

by Sue Adams

Age 52. Kansas City, MO

These four women had the profound effect of making and forming my personhood. 

Amy Thompson was my good college friend who was killed by a man when she was 26 who tried to steal her car. She lived three years physically incapacitated but mentally and spiritually alive as no one I have ever known. She exhibited profound courage and forgiveness and witness to Spirit.

My chum Naomi was the housekeeper to my grandparents for fifty years in Wellington Kansas. She saw me really saw me when I felt completely invisible to everyone else in my immediate family. She exemplified unconditional love and hope to me.

Mrs Carper was a family friend who I traveled with as a young woman. She was a spiritual guide to me and also connected with me in a profound way, making me feel much smarter and important and loved than I ever could have been.

Mrs Cornelius was the mother of my best friend from age two to thirteen. She raised me with love and fun and conversation. I couldn’t get enough of her when I was little.

These four extraordinary gals were my touchstones during my formative years and I still try to make them proud of me.

HERO: My father, Sidney Moran

by Deborah Moran

Age 58. Houston, TX

Many call my dad a saint without much exaggeration.  He is that rare thing, incredibly emotionally mature, unfailingly beneficent, full of wisdom based on extremely grounded and logical thinking, loved by all who know him.  I inherited his way of thinking, but not his gentle temperament.  So I try to spread his ideas and wisdom and live them myself, but will never equal his ability to appeal to people’s better nature. Next life, perhaps.