Heroes among us - large and small

I’ve been thinking about heroes lately. The recent news about Aung San Suu Kyi’s stunning parliamentary election victory in Myanmar, also known as Burma, marks a major milestone in a nation emerging from a ruthless era of military rule. It is also an astonishing reversal of fortune for one of the world’s most prominent prisoners of conscience. After more than two decades of leaving her family behind to be imprisoned in her home, she is now a symbol of hope around the world and a hero to her impoverished countrymen.

Speaking at a news conference in Istanbul, Turkey, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cast her election as meaningful for the free world when she said, “Even the most repressive regimes can reform, and even the most closed societies can open.”

Even for Clinton, Aung San Suu Kyi is a capital-H hero because she found the strength to preserve and endure in spite of hardships and overwhelming obstacles. She now serves as an inspiration for other repressed people of the world.

At the same time as the news breaks about Aung San Suu Kyi, I received the news that my sister Mary will be posthumously recognized as one of Alaska’s Hospice Heroes of Healthcare 2012. Now in this context, being a hero means something entirely different. According to anthropologist Joseph Campbell, who studied cultures around the world, “a hero is someone who has given his life to something bigger than oneself.”

This definition fits my sister as she dedicated her life to assisting seniors, victims of dementia and those plagued with health issues. She is best known for her work in the emerging field of integrating the comfort of pets into patient care in the health care setting. By founding the Pet Assisted Wellness program at Providence Hospital she pioneered the first formalized pet therapy program in Alaska. She left something bigger than herself and for this she is now one of four Healthcare Heroes of 2012.

But there is still another kind of hero. English actor Richard Attenborough believes we need certain peoples — heroes — by whom we can measure our own shortcomings. These are perhaps the heroes least recognized as they quietly go about their business in exemplary form day in and day out. In this context, a father I encounter regularly at the swimming pool comes to mind as an everyday hero. Thank you for letting me honor her memory in my column.

Through the years I have watched this devoted father give his visually impaired, handicapped son a few moments of fun and comfort by helping him float on top of the water. The routine never changes despite the level of agitation that his son may be having that day. His son is now a young man, sprouting chin hair. His prospects for a normal life are unlikely. No matter, his father is there for him; ever patient and tender day in and day out.

Knowing that I lack such a reservoir of patience and would likely rely on services for the handicapped were I ever in such a situation, this father has always been a hero to me. I have always wanted to tell him this. Now prompted by the news of other heroes, I intend to let him know what an inspiration he is to me.

Whether the stage is national, statewide or in your backyard, there are many heroes among us to inspire and enrich our lives. May they all in time get the recognition they deserve. Who are your heroes?

• Troll is a longtime Alaska resident and resides in Douglas.

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