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The Unlikely Hero

It is often said, everybody needs a hero. You know, someone to look-up to; someone to be like. Growing up, I had a lot of heroes to choose from. There was my absentee father, my jobless uncles – oh, and I can’t forget about my brother that was in jail for attempted murder. Then there was my mother. At age 38, she was single, had five children, and by definition – homeless. She moved us in with our grandmother in a poor community. Although my mother found odd jobs to feed us (mechanic, housekeeper, painter, etc.), we spent a lot of time on government assistance; most people we knew were. Although I was only five years old at the time, I still remember the pain on her face; the tears on your hero are hard to forget.

Facing the World

As I matured, I began to realize that I was next – it would soon be my turn to face the world. My heroes seemed to be doing alright. They spent their days either drinking on the porch, watching television, or waiting impatiently at the mailbox for their government assistance checks to arrive. Somewhere in late elementary school, I gained an innate desire to break the cycle that surrounded me; I was tired of the spinning. My friends wanted to break the cycle too - by supporting the government structure that ensured the community’s livelihood – more welfare programs, more after school programs, more free cheese, etc. Although I directly benefited from these programs, I felt that I wanted to be on the contributing side of society and not the taking side. Free things were nice, but they were short term solutions to long term problems. I knew these programs were pitched by well-intended people to get people out of poverty. But living in that reality, I knew my family had no intention of getting out of poverty. What one group defined as poverty, we defined as a normal way of life and I desired to purse a new normal.

“Go Get It Yourself”

Breaking the cycle meant going off to college; it meant leaving my mom. Worried, I asked my mom, “If I go to college, what will happen to you?” In response my mom affectionately said,

“Oh. I’ll be right here. I have nothing to give you. If you want more in life, you have to go get it yourself.”

Those words. That moment. Hidden in plain sight. My mother challenged me to take the leading role in my life, not the bit part. She dared me to be my own hero – to “go get it yourself.”

In retrospect, we spend so much time and energy looking for leaders on television, in politics, in teachers, in mentors, in relationships, in awards. We even look for heroes in drugs and in alcohol. We look to people, habits, and things to make our life better. Some heroes are good, others are not. Sometimes it is hard to tell. Whatever the situation, we need to look no further than the mirror, to find that unlikely hero.

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