Unlikely Heroes

Unlikely Heroes

Unlikely Heroes 150 150 Paul Phillips

In the cover of darkest night, the old man weeps. Alone, he cries until no more tears will come, and still the sobs torment his body.

The time was when he couldn’t shed a single tear. When very little seemed to touch his heart. Except harsh reality. Retribution and reward. Hard work.

That was before.

So many who walked beside him have gone on ahead now.

Still he walks. Nearly alone now.

Once, he saw the road ahead clearly. Almost, it seems, the light of their presence helped to make the way plain for miles ahead.

Bereft of that light, he hasn’t abandoned the way.

And yet, almost as if their presence in his life still yields a flickering beam of candlelight, his dimming eyes can make out the road ahead. Just barely.

Heroic acts can do that, you know. Something of their aura clings to the hero.

And yes, I called him a hero. Many who are never acknowledged as such perform the acts of heroes daily.

No. Not the type of hero feats performed on the battlefield, nor even those accomplished in lifesaving acts on mountainsides or in the depths of dark waters.

The acts of a hero are sometimes simply to live as one promises to live, to act as one has sworn to act, to stay when one has given his word to stay.

The old man has done all that, and more. Ofttimes, the hero is a wife, or a mother, or a brother.

We don’t talk about it. Perhaps it is part of our contract with the young and energetic, but we don’t speak of the ultimate cost.

Maybe we should.

The young home health specialist was obviously uncomfortable as I spoke with him about it the other day. But then again, he may not be all that young—simply younger than I. Still, he was reluctant to speak the words.

I asked him if the situations in which he found himself daily were surprising or uncomfortable for him. He chose his words carefully.

“I love home health work. Still, there are things that go on in those homes that you wouldn’t believe. Horrible, painful things. And, beautiful things.“

Refusing to name the horrible, painful things, he instead described folks who take care of their loved ones from daybreak to nighttime and, many times, on through the night. Their tasks are dirty and uncomfortable. The regularity with which they are called upon to perform the tasks is constant, with no end in sight.

The years stretch out ahead. Still, they stay.

I marvel. In part, I marvel at the hardships that await at the end of our lives, or sometimes surprisingly, early in them. More than that, I marvel at the audacity of someone who would willingly attend such events.

Still, we don’t speak aloud of the hardships, especially to the young.

I was present at a wedding the other evening. It was beautiful—the bride, gorgeous and so happy. The groom, a young man I have known since he was a small boy, beamed from ear to ear with his beautiful young wife hanging on his arm. And, so he should.

Youth is a heady time of life. Indestructible and self-confident, no hint of hardship fazes us. Bring it on! We can handle anything! Anything.

The Lovely Lady and I hugged the beautiful young bride and her handsome husband, as I joked that the wedding had gone perfectly.

“That was the easy part. Now comes the hard stuff.”

The words came from my mouth lightly. The pair acknowledged the veracity of my statement, perhaps a little more seriously than I intended. But, the innocence in their beaming faces gave evidence that their young minds had not yet imagined the path their promises on that night will lead them upon.

And, perhaps that’s the way it should be. Love, if it is indeed love, is a journey beside one another—a growing together, a gathering consciousness of shared joys and pains; of approaching illnesses that will change life for both.

Still, I wonder. When the young begin their journey together, we throw huge, extravagant parties—celebrations of good intentions, of great hopes.

And when, after years of walking with those one loves and interminable nights of performing unspeakable tasks because of that love, the shared journey comes to an end, there is no celebration whatsoever.

The hero is unsung. The herculean task of caring for the person one loves is passed over as if it never happened.

It happened.

It happened.

Somehow though, it seems incongruous to celebrate in the face of sorrow and pain. I wonder if it’s a stretch to think that perhaps, there’ll be a special place of honor for these heroes at the wedding feast of the Lamb. (Revelation 19:8-9) After all, who understands marriage better among mankind than those who have fulfilled their oaths to the last breath?

But then again, I think the words of praise from the Lord as he’s welcomed into heaven will be celebration enough.

Well done! You’ve been a good, faithful servant. It’s time for you to rest. (Matthew 25:21)

Promises kept build the character of a man. Debts paid strengthen the integrity of the person.

The old man stood on my porch last weekend and, barely holding back the tears, told me she was gone. After sixty-six years, he is alone.

I reminded him of her love for him and his care for her, and he brightened, if only for a moment. It hadn’t been a storybook marriage, but both had fulfilled their promises. And then some.

I wish it were time for celebration.

But, in his room alone, he weeps.

The day is coming. It is.

The celebration is still ahead. Crowns will be distributed to the heroes. And then, offered again to the Hero of Heroes.

Tears—those evidences of present sorrows that our God counts precious—will by His own hand, be wiped from our eyes.

The old man is waiting for the day.

So am I.



Paul Phillips

Paul Phillips is a writer, a fifty-something grandfather, and follower of Christ. He's also a legend in his hometown, having been "owner, janitor, and gofer" of Whitmore's Music in Siloam Springs, AR since 1985. Follow Paul's blog, He's Taken Leave (www.hestakenleave.com), where he weaves nostalgic stories of life and faith.

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