How do you define the word “hero”?
It was a question my 12-year-old son, Jackson, pondered as he worked on a homework assignment a few months ago. The purpose of the homework was part of a civics project to help Jackson and his classmates understand the events that occurred on 9/11 as well as help them understand the differences and similarities between a superhero and an everyday hero using concentric circles.
The homework included watching Youtube videos like Boatlift, an untold tale of 9/11 narrated by Tom Hanks and The Man in the Red Bandana. If you haven’t seen these videos, I highly suggest you watch them. They are so moving and inspiring.
I explained to Jackson that the purpose of the homework was to illustrate that you don’t need a cape to be a hero. Sometimes things people do every day are heroic.
This idea is eloquently stated by Romain Rolland, “A hero is a man who does what he can.”
Jackson was on board with the assignment until the point where the homework required him to provide an example of when he did something heroic. Well, this question caused tears to swell up in his eyes. He was frustrated that he couldn’t think of an example. And, let me add here, Jackson is just like his mother. Jackson seeks perfection in his work, and when faced with a situation where he felt like fell short, his frustration level rose.
I tried to explain again to Jackson common people do heroic things every day. There were thousands of heroes on 9/11, as shown in the videos. Ordinary people did extraordinary things. People risked their own lives to help others.
In an effort to help Jackson answer the question, I pointed out so many examples of his volunteer work, namely, as part of his Reston Raiders Hockey Team, “Raiders Care.” Jackson and his teammates have done numerous volunteer activities over the years. I highlight a few, making snack backs for kids at the local shelter, Cornerstones, greeting WWII vets at the airport, sending candy to kids in the hospital as part of The Evan Foundation, and so many more.
Jackson gave me the “you are supposed to say things like that to me because you are my mother” look. In essence, I hear what you are saying, but it lacks credibility because you are obligated to think I am great!
My older son, Thomas, chimed in. (keep in mind the point of view of a 16-year-old high school student.) Thomas said, “Jackson, calm down. This homework is a ‘check the box’ activity. No one is going to read your answers.”
While Thomas and I chuckled, Jackson was unresponsive to our efforts to help and provide perspective.
Jackson finally completed the assignment, but I could tell he felt like the word “hero” was too generous to be applied to him and his activities.
Fast forward to this past Monday, and it all changed. Jackson and his teammates, led by the goalie, Harrison, participated in a fundraiser called October Saves Goalie Challenge. The team raised a whopping $10,500.00. (learn more about this incredible org started by a hockey mom). As a result of the incredible work, the team was invited to present their donation check to the Inova Schar Cancer Institute.
John Deeken, MD, President Inova Schar Cancer Institue, addressed the parents and kids, and his message was very clear. (I am paraphrasing here)You all are heroes. The money you have raised will go to programs here in the hospital. Dr. Deeken asked the kids to think about people that they passed coming in and out of the hospital upon arrival. Perhaps those people might benefit from the generous donation. The children were then invited to tour the hospital, which is an incredible state of the art facility.
I introduced myself to Dr. Deeken after and said, your speech just changed my child’s life. I shared the story above, and that I could feel Dr. Deekan’s words creating a shift in Jackson’s perception of himself. Maybe now he could consider himself a hero.
I am so proud of these kids and their ability to be contributing members of the community and that they are leading by example.
I am grateful that Jackson can see you don’t need to wear a cape to be a hero and that sometimes it may feel like a contribution has to be huge to be meaningful, but in fact, it isn’t the size, but the impact. Sometimes smiling and someone, holding the door, offering compassion over judgment can make all the difference.
I don’t mind that Jackson didn’t believe me when I told him he was a hero. The word hero is a big word to apply to oneself. I get it. He is humble, a good quality. I know something significant shifted on Monday for Jackson. I am glad he can now see that actions he takes may not seem overly significant, but to the recipient, they can be life-changing.
P.S. This is just my story about how Jackson’s like was changed though helping others, but I want to be sure that it doesn’t take away from any of the amazing work done by Harrison, his mom, and the Raiders Hockey Team. They are all heroes.