I’ve enjoyed many years in practice. The best part of it has always been meeting some unbelievably kind women, men and couples who are my “quiet heroes.” They don’t write books or give television interviews. They’re not likely to make it onto 60 Minutes or the evening news but they are a gift to their families, friends and communities. Let me tell you about a few of them.
Yesterday I had the good fortune to meet a truly amazing mother of four—two adopted and two biological children. Nina (not her real name) works in a government-funded position and lives a modest lifestyle. One of Nina’s children—a pre-adolescent—carries an assortment of mental health diagnoses; serious ones. And whatever the specifics the fact remains that Nina’s child is violent, has tried to attack her and other members of the family and even attempted an arson attack at the family home. By all accounts Nina’s child will soon require chronic care. And yet this mother soldiers between her job and three other children all while attending to the special needs of her troubled child. While Nina keeps moving forward with no “light” at the end of this tunnel I remain awestruck by her quiet determination and selflessness.
An old professor of mine back when I was a first year medical student—Dr. John Romano—once explained that are many kinds of love but none rivaled a mother’s love for a special needs child. Nina was here because of some minor and unrelated problem and yet this important issue—one she has come to accept and requires her daily if not under-appreciated devotion—was just brought up in passing.
I met another “set of heroes” from a small town in Virginia earlier in the year. A husband—another government worker—had found my name on line as he was searching for answers to his wife’s (we’ll call her Alexis) unusual menstrual disorder. “Chester” (not his real name) took the initiative of finding me, attending to the myriad of travel and hotel arrangements while his wife and I spent an hour on the phone reviewing her medical records and her condition before we agreed to have them travel to Rochester. When they arrived her I met a young couple in their late 30s with pictures of their 3 beautiful children and what was obviously a wonderful, mutually respectful and supportive marriage. Such marriages seem anachronistic today. Yet here they were—a loving couple married for 15 years carefully considering a problem that affects them both—and doing it together with love and compassion. I wish I knew more couples like that. They were both my heroes as role models of how men and women should treat one another.
Heroes and heroines abound. If we can tear ourselves away from the mind-numbing 24 hours news cycle and reject the cynicism that infiltrates the fabric of our lives we find them all around us. We pass them every day – we just don’t know their stories.
A woman I work with finds a way to be dedicated to her job, her daughter and a husband facing major surgery. I don’t know how she does it and manages to keep a smile on her face. Another woman I work with battles chronic pain while another works 2 part time jobs in addition to a full time one at our office—and she smiles as she does it. Not a single one of them complains.
No one celebrates these women. No one celebrates the working mother who had her first child as an adolescent and is now 30 finishing up nursing school so she can provide a better life for her son.
There’s no day set aside for them….no recognition; and besides they wouldn’t want one. Most of them don’t even know they’re extraordinary – and frankly they don’t care. They’re just living their lives and hoping they’re doing it right.
We have distorted views of what heroes, heroines and real role models are. We imagine them to extraordinary people—and many are. But we fail to recognize the heroes all around us. My mom and dad have been gone 17 years now. I think of them each and appreciate them more every day.
Take a moment to think of the heroes and heroines in your life and thank them for the lessons they’ve taught you and how they’re been the role models you needed. Trust me, you won’t have to look far to find one.
This article is devoted to my quiet hero. Henry Silberstern is a quiet unassuming man of unimaginable resilience. One day I’ll share his story and how he changed my life.