We all evolve as our lives morph and change. Circumstances can make us say and do things that are uncharacteristic of what we believe ourselves to be, so now I need a reminder of my journey. This is a piece that I wrote in 2010. It was published. I still believe it to be true. I have to. I just simply have to.
EVERYDAY HEROES ARE ALL AROUND US
"He was an influential man." What springs to mind when we hear that statement -- a politician or the president of a large corporation? Or perhaps a famous actor, singer or sports figure? What is it that drives us to look beyond our own surroundings to find inspiration in the life of another? How many of us have lived our entire lives having never experienced the impact of a truly influential person?
Perhaps many of us are so busy waiting for popular culture to meet this need that we do not recognize these people when they are right before our eyes. Miriam-Webster defines influence as "the act or power of producing an effect without apparent exertion of force or direct exercise of command."
It seems to me that cultural heroes in our society can never truly influence us in any meaningful way, because they exhibit an exertion of force in everything they do for the singular purpose of commanding our attention.
At the relatively young age of 45, it seemed that my life had become stagnant and purposeless. I was forced to find new employment, abandoning close to 19 years of achievement and strong emotional ties. I did have one beloved pastime, but even in that arena I was beginning to feel like my road had run its course.
I was questioning my role in every aspect of my life, including my marriage. In the simplest terms possible, I felt totally and utterly useless. I had created quite a pity party for myself and it was a party of one. I was in serious need of some positive influence.
There are people who walk quietly into our lives and influence us simply by being themselves. So it was with the person who shook me out of my doldrums. This person was a combination of work ethic, intelligence and generosity that grabbed my attention and spoke to my heart. And, for reasons beyond my understanding, she came into my world and saw something in me that very few others had ever seen. She never gave up on me, even though I had essentially abandoned myself. It was this tenacious influence that led me to my quintessential, Oprah Winfrey "aha" moment. It was, quite simply, the moment that changed my life.
I realized how incredibly lucky I was to be surrounded by the most amazing people who continue to influence me every day. From the woman who faces devastating health issues in her family and the loss of a child yet still manages to be a ray of sunshine in the lives of her friends, to the many cancer survivors I know who have gone through their ordeals with quiet faith and dignity.
I've observed a woman who overcame a potentially life-threatening condition while steadfastly coming to work with a smile on her face each day, and my own husband who works harder than anyone I know and would help out someone in a jam without hesitation. And most amazing to me is our daughter, who is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside.
As we face the struggles of everyday life, there will be times when we doubt or question ourselves and feel despair beyond our ability to cope. I have come to understand that the key to overcoming that despair may just be finding the strength to look beyond our own needs and seek out the everyday heroes surrounding us to make their life force a part of our own. Only then can we say that we have truly been influenced.
So there you have it. I spent 45 years, 25 adult years, never knowing how to find the humanity in my fellow human beings. Once my eyes were opened, the world was changed for me. My worst fear is that circumstances will lead me backward. That unhappy, self-centered, judgmental person is dead to me and must remain dead. If we don't remember history, we are doomed to repeat it. If we don't honor our journeys, then they are meaningless.