Who do you look to for inspiration? Some people’s heroes are historical or political figures; famous people, artists, thinkers, writers. I have lots of heroes. Wild Horse Annie, for her lifelong commitment to legally protect the wild horses and burros. Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey for devoting their lives to the study of primates in the African jungles; and Jacques Costeau for pioneering undersea research. Dr. Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Mother Theresa for their humanitarianism. Helen Keller for overcoming and teaching. Then there are the artists: photographers Diane Arbus, Annie Liebowitz, Ansel Adams, Jim Westin. Too many painters to list… but definitely: Van Gogh, Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol; filmmakers Stanley Kubrick, Francis Coppola, Martin Scorsese. Ellen Degeneres and Oprah for being Ellen and Oprah. Writers and musicians? Too, too many to list … so many brilliant lights sharing their visions, emotions, longings and insights.
I’m inspired by these people because they were not born famous. They turned a life into a statement. They gave and achieved and held fast to their vision of what was right, what was beautiful, what mattered. As I look at the list, all of them suffered for their vision; struggled against haters and critics, held fast to their mission. They made something of their lives, shared themselves in a big way.
But not all my heroes are dead or even famous. I’m inspired by people I know who are just amazing in their everyday life.
Lately my hero is my sister. She six years younger than I; growing up, she was a cramp in my style, a pain in my posterior. As young adults we became tight and have remained so through many an up and down.
Sarah was wild like me. She got kicked out of the fancy shmancy Catholic high school, but graduated from the next, then went to college where she lived with our Aunt and worked her way to a degree by selling shoes at a department store. (Some weeks she would barely get a check because it had already been spent. My sister loves shoes!) She got her degree, the first in our family. She got married and moved to Cleveland, then Tampa. She had a kid. Then another. Then… another, her one girl. Everyone assumed that would be it, but she wanted a big family and got it by having two more boys! During this period my sister struggled with addiction. The family had some rocky times. They lost their house and moved back to our hometown. Finally Sarah overcame her addiction and all of a sudden she was super-capable, unstoppable. Her daughter just graduated from high school as Valedictorian, with a necklace full of achievement medals and is now a freshman, away at college. Now with only two boys left at home you’d think my sister would be lunching and shopping, maybe taking up scrap-booking. But instead she went back to school for another degree. She got hired for an internship too. Now she’s taking classes, working, still raising those two boys, but that’s not all. She takes care of her grandbaby a lot. She’s also taking care of our Dad who has gotten old while nobody was looking. He’s been having some memory problems and since his wife still works, my sister is over there all the time. Helping my Dad with the everyday stuff, keeping him laughing and looking on the bright side.
Sarah always admired me for my career, my adventures. Now I admire her for her quiet, everyday heroism. To go back to college at age fifty with all her obligations is an act of hope and courage. Yes, she is tearing her hair out some days, but she just laughs off the exhaustion, the difficulties, the car breakdowns and the spilt milk.
Here’s to Heroes!
The Mountain Mouth