There Go My Heroes

We live in a time where the word “hero” is thrown around a great deal. In actuality, most of the people who are labeled as heroes aren’t, in fact, anything close. The majority of celebrities and athletes who have been called heroes are anything but (Pat Tillman being one of the few exceptions).

    “Don’t the best of them bleed it out

     While the rest of them peter out.”

                                    ~ The Foo Fighters

That is a line from one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite artists, the Foo Fighters.  I love Dave Grohl, the lead singer. There just aren’t many celebrities who are as cool as Dave. The song itself is about the ordinary, everyday people who are the true heroes in life. They may not get a lot of glory or notoriety, but they are extraordinary, nonetheless.

My adopted parents are the two greatest heroes in my life. I could literally write an entire novel on the many obstacles both of these people have overcome.  

In March of 1980, two people who were just beginning their lives together made the decision to adopt their first child. At the same time, I was living in an abusive environment with my parents, after having been raised by my grandparents until the age of six. When the abuse I was enduring was finally discovered, social services immediately intervened. Instead of being placed in a foster home, I was quickly adopted by a young couple. I was literally saved from a life in Hell that no child should ever go through. In the blink of an eye, my life did a complete 180-degree turn. I went into a safe environment, being loved by people who had never known me. Years later, I asked my parents (who went on to have seven children of their own) if they thought they were not able to have children. To my surprise, they had simply made the decision to adopt their first child. And I was the lucky one in the right place at the right time!

As I grew to know my parents, I began to learn how special they are. My mother, who lost her own mother at a young age to cancer, was a Spanish teacher at the local high school. My father, a Vietnam veteran, was a union ironworker in Washington DC. During the week, it was just me, my mom, and the cats. My father stayed in DC during the week because it was a 3-hour drive from where we lived in western Virginia. My mother and I would look forward to the weekends when “the old man” would come home.  Over the years, I learned to admire these two people who believed in working hard, sacrificing, and leading virtuous, godly lives.

In 1985, we moved to Northern Virginia, so we could be closer to my father’s work, and he could be home on a nightly basis. A couple of years later, our lives were turned upside down. On a spring day in early April (I can’t remember specific details), we received a phone call. My father had been in a horrible accident on the job. Again, much of this is a blur, but I clearly remember the sick feeling of being worried, especially not knowing what was happening. The man I had known since I was six years old was going through a Hell that I could never begin to imagine. It was several days (or was it weeks?) before I was actually able to see him. I remember walking into his hospital room in Bethesda, Maryland, and not recognizing the battered figure I saw lying before me.  Until that day, my father had been the strongest man in the world (at least in my eyes). He was truly an Adonis-like figure. The many years of being an ironworker had helped him stay in phenomenal shape. But now, in that hospital room, I stood before a man who had been shattered. Any other person would likely have died. How did my once-invincible father end up this way? It turned out he had been perched upon a vertical steel beam as they were dismantling an old structure. Below him, the anchor bolts that were keeping the beam in its upright position gave out. He rode the beam as it fell like a giant oak that had been cut down. As the beam approached the ground, he did his best to jump clear. But upon hitting the ground, the beam bounced onto his legs, immediately crushing and pinning them. The wounds from the traumatic experience were horrific.

As I stood beside the hospital bed, all I could do was look at his battered legs. A contraption that looked like an erector set or some crude torture device was attached to his lower left leg. My once vibrant father looked haggard. He was hurting in a way I could never imagine. But even with all the pain, my father mustered up every bit of energy to be positive. He let me know that everything was going to be okay. That’s my old man seeing the light even in the midst of darkness.

It’s been over 30 years since I stood beside that hospital bed. Over the years, my father has endured dozens of surgeries. I’ve watched him go from bedridden to a wheelchair, to a walker, to crutches, to finally walking on his own (with a limp, of course). 

Today, I look at my father in a way that I look at no other human being on this earth. When my own life becomes difficult, I think about the man who came within inches of death, went through years of immense suffering, and came out triumphant. How could I ever complain or feel sorry for myself? I simply can’t.

My mother is also an extraordinary person who has overcome incredible odds. After I was adopted, she went on to have five boys and two girls. Each pregnancy had its share of challenges, but none compared to her last one.  At the age of 46, my mother announced that she was expecting. I was going to become the oldest of eight! Then came the devastating news. (For the record, I was 23 years old and out of the house). Doctors told my mother she had breast cancer. Decisions needed to be made. My devout Irish Catholic parents immediately put their foot down. There would absolutely not be an abortion (doctors had actually presented it as a measure).  My mother would have to go through chemotherapy during the 3rd trimester, once the precious fetus within her had fully developed. I can’t tell anyone what my mother went through. Only she experienced it. But I do know her unwavering faith in God got her through. Against all odds, in April of 1996, my mother delivered a healthy baby girl. Like my father, my mother also went through an extended period of surgeries and treatments to defeat the insidious monster inside her.  Twenty-five years later, she remains cancer-free.

      “There goes my hero, Extraordinary!”

                   ~ The Foo Fighters

 My parents are ordinary people who have been through extraordinary events. They are my greatest role models. They are my greatest heroes. They personify the “never say die” attitude.   I know how incredibly blessed I am to have become one of the threads in the beautiful tapestry they have created over the years.  A tapestry that displays a picture of strength, endurance, faith, hope, and love.


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