I grew up in an age of heroes. Some real, some imaginary, but all of them meant something to me. When my friends told me they were going to be what their dad was, I told them I was going to be an elevator salesman. At night, Mighty Mouse saved me from my repeating nightmares. And in the afternoon, we’d hurry home from school to watch Under Dog.
Look up in the sky,
It’s a bird.
It’s a Plane.
It’s a Frog.
No not bird nor plane, nor even frog.
It’s just little ole’ me – Underdog.”
I could sing you the rest of the song from memory, but you get the idea. Later we played Army in the yard and watched McHale’s Navy and Hogan’s Heroes at night. As I got older, I had professional athletes’ posters thumbtacked to my walls.
In college, when I heard “Born to Run” for the first time, The Boss became a hero of sorts. He was someone who took the old sound and made it new. He had the conviction to play his music when the industry was going commercial and techno.
But as an adult, these heroes faded away. I got married, got a mortgage, and got kids. It’s what my parents did before me. It’s what my friends did around me. As I got older I called my Dad about fixing a light, buying a house, and taking a job. And I prayed like my mother. When our kids gave me a hard time, I found myself thinking, “I wonder if Dad thought like this when I was his kid.”
While in the Navy, Marines who stared down death became my heroes. The Corpsman who came back broken because his officer did not, Eric who had his soft cap shot off his head, and the sergeant who died trying to rescue his working dog are my heroes. When a Marine goes down, the call goes out, “Corpsman up.”
When I retired, I was driving with my grandson on base who noticed a Navy Corpsman dressed in blue and asked about him. “Oh, he replied, I didn’t know heroes wore blue, too.”
And when my son died I desperately needed a hero. I bonded instantly whenever I found someone who lost a child. They knew life because they knew death – and they knew me. When a couple came up to my wife and I in December and told us they lost their son to suicide on Christmas Eve twenty years ago, they became our heroes.
Tears filled my eyes when my cousin whispered in my ear when I has hiking the Appalachian Trail that I was his hero. My heroes, though, were Jeff, Allison, and Josie who were quietly battling cancer. Everyone knew about Andy Davidson and his pain but they fought death daily.
I think of all my parents who fought to the end. One died in bed, another in a rehab chair, and my mother in a nursing home. My father-in-law died in his 65 Galaxy. Strange, isn’t it, that I started with my parents as heroes and along the way got distracted? But the older I got, the more I returned to the real heroes of life – the ones who conquered death.
That is what we really want from our heroes – to conquer death. Cartoons are fantasy, football is a metaphor for war, and war is an instrument of death. When I realized that God lost his son on the cross to sin, God became my hero. Sure, he knew he was going to conquer death at the tomb but he and his father went through the pain, depression, and anger that accompanies death.
Finding real heroes are important for you as well. They are all around you. They aren’t perfect – they are people. They will let you down, even disappoint you. But they are this – they are real. Real heroes are real. They have dealt with life and each day, they are conquering death.
You now have a story. The more you tell it, the longer you live it, you will become a hero to someone. It may be to a grandbaby, it may be to a friend, it will likely be to someone you don’t even know.
Heroes don’t think of themselves as such. That’s the sign of a real hero. But take a moment, breath it in, and if you are ready, thank God for making you a hero. No one wants to be a hero. Even Jesus asked his Father to “take this cup from me.”
I guess it’s what John Wayne said, “Courage is being afraid, and saddling up anyway.”
Saddle up Underdog, Corpsman up.
Andy is a Clinical Psychologist who lost his son in a tragic motorcycle accident and now authors articles on bereavement. Look forward to his upcoming posts, quiz, and book, “When Sunday Smiled.” Follow him at his website, AndyMDavidson.com and Facebook.com/ThroughLifeandLoss to find out more about prolonged grief.