Our kids desperately need real heroes.
Not role models.
But true heroes….
It was the longest funeral procession I had ever seen or been privileged to be a part of. It stretched five miles long at points, a blinking red, white, and blue snake of family, friends, police, and military. Less than forty miles from the church to the graveside, it took more than two hours to get there. The soldier and police officer it carried was being brought through every town he had lived and served in in his short life. Three small towns dotted along a quiet Oklahoma countryside. But on this day, those towns seemed to be one big city.
As the procession made its slow methodical way from one town after another, you could not tell where one ended and another began. Not because they were that close together. No, it was because of the people.
There were people EVERYWHERE.
They lined every street, every corner, every shoulder and every intersection. The traffic in both directions came to a stand still. Car after car was stopped on the side of the road, its driver standing in solemn attention as the procession passed. Entire schools gathered on the grassy knoll between the school and the two lane highway, holding signs and banners. Businesses closed their shops and offices to pay their respect. Men, women, and children, old and young, with their hand over their hearts, stood holding small American flags, as they wiped tears from their cheeks.
A last attempt to show honor to one of our country’s fallen sons.
I did not know this brave young man; I was at the funeral with Huntsman, who is a part of our department’s Honor Guard unit. But I remember feeling completely overwhelmed by the number of people and this last act of love they showed this soldier and his family. That funeral and procession will forever be embedded in my mind. But there was one moment, in particular, that I will never, ever forget.
We were traveling down a small stretch of empty highway. Only fields and pastures flew by as we passed. But in the middle of a clearing stood a lone house. In front of the house was a veteran, his face and body weathered by the long life he had lived. He was dressed in his full military uniform, now old with age. He must have been in his mid to late 80s. But he stood, crooked and bent, saluting his fallen brother as he made his last journey home.
This man, who, undoubtably, had seen his fair share of violence and death, was standing and saluting.
Because he recognized a hero.
Because he knew the price of service.
As a society I think we have forgotten who and what a hero really is. We have confused inspirational with heroic. But they are not the same.
We need role models, this is true. And there are so many good role models out there; men and women who have fought against systems and disabilities and trials, and have overcome. They are no doubt, worthy of revering and honoring. However, they are not heroes.
A role model teaches us how much the human spirit can accomplish. A role model teaches us how to stand. A role model teaches us how to live.
But a hero, a true hero, shows us how to fall.
A hero shows us how high a price service to another can cost.
A hero shows us how to die to ourself.
A hero is someone who sees the risk and yet still acts anyways. A hero doesn’t see a cause; they see a cost. My life or theirs. And they are willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice to fall so that others may stand.
Our kids need role models to show them how to live a life worth sharing. But they need heroes to show them a life worth giving.
We need to give them real heroes.
Men and women who have either given or have been willing to give their life in an act of service to another. A neighbor who is willing to chase a crazed gunman who has just shot and killed 26 people in a church service. A police officer who runs towards, not away from, the bullets raining down on a concert venue holding thousands of people. A fireman who climbs story after story of a burning tower to rescue those at the top. A soldier who throws himself on a grenade to save the lives of his brothers and sisters around him.
These are heroes.
Their stories inspire us to do more, be more. Not for fame. Not for change. But for service and sacrifice to our fellow man.
Today is Veteran’s Day, a day we recognize and honor the men and women who have fought courageously and sacrificially for our communities and country. We honor them for their service and their willingness to give their life for something bigger and greater than them. We should take the time this weekend to reflect on their sacrifice, and the sacrifice of their family.
But it shouldn’t end there.
We need to be looking for the heroes everyday.
They are there and our kids need to see them.
SIX WAYS TO GIVE YOUR CHILD REAL HEROES
HONOR THE HEROES IN YOUR COMMUNITY. Find them. They are everywhere. At your church, the grocery store, ballgames, and restaurants. Listen for stories. Look for military hat and stickers on cars. And when you find a hero, thank them. One way our family does this is we leave thank you notes on cars of military members. We also make it a point to thank police officers, firemen, and service members that we see in public. We’ve taken our kids to homecomings, funeral processions, and memorial events. We’ve paid for meals. The heroes in your community aren’t hard to find. Find them. Then honor them.
LISTEN TO THEIR STORIES. Both my grandfathers died this year. They both lived long, full lives. But I never knew just how long and full until I heard the stories from my parents and aunts and uncles. These were amazing men. Heroes from the greatest generation. And while I was sad at their passing, my biggest regret was that I never really sat down to hear their stories from their mouths. I never knew the extraordinary men they were from the ordinary lives they lived. But they were heroes. They lived willing to fall for others. And there are stories from men and women like them all over our nation. They are our neighbors, friends, family, even strangers. Take the time to listen.
SHOW THEM THE SACRIFICE. As parents, we want to shelter our children from hurt, and pain, and evil. But sometimes in our attempt to shelter them from the uncomfortable, we are robbing them of the extraordinary. If you want to give your child real heroes, you have to be willing to let them see the sacrifice. Courage isn’t pretty. And nothing worth honoring is ever given without a price. Take them to funerals. Stand for processions. Walk cemeteries of soldiers. Attend memorial services. Honor the men and women in your community who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the good of others.
TEACH THEM THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN STANDING AND FALLING. It is one thing to stand for a cause or injustice. But it is an entirely different thing to fall for one. It is not in our nature to run to danger, especially when we are safe on the other side. But that is exactly what a hero does. While most people are willing to stand for something, only a few are willing to fall for someone. Teach your child that there is a difference between supporting a cause and actually acting on one.
LOOK FOR THE GOOD. Our world seems to be falling apart at the seams lately. There is so much division and evil and heartache right now. We live in a fallen, broken world. But in the midst of all the hatred and fighting, there is good. And in the good is where you will find the heroes. It’s easy to lose faith and hope when the world is erupting in violence toward our fellow man. But that is exactly when hope arrives and faith is restored.
BE INTENTIONAL. A true hero is humble. They do not see themselves as a hero or anything special. They see their act of heroism as their job or what they had to do. I think that is part of what makes their actions more than just an act of courage. But this means they won’t be easy to find. We, as parents, need to be intentional about bringing the heroes to our children. Get in touch with an older family member who served in a war zone, or contact the local chapter of your VFW. Call the airport to see if any military units or Honor Flight groups (this is a program for senior veterans from World War 2 and the Vietnam War that flies them to DC for free for the day to take them to their designated war memorial) are coming back into town and meet them with signs and banners saying thank you. Pay for a police officer’s meal or buy him or her coffee. Visit a fire station. If the heroes won’t come to you, take your family to them.
There are heroes all around us. They are our fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, friends and neighbors, and community members and countrymen. They see a need and they run to help. It isn’t about us. It’s about them. They were willing to fall so that we could stand.
I dedicate this post in honor of:
My grandfather Joe Carrel, who served in two wars, and taught me what patriotism really is…not pride for country, but sacrifice for country.
My grandfather Elbert Clay, who served his community with open arms and an open heart, and taught me that service to another is not a sacrifice as much as it is a privilege.
My dad Kevin Carrel, who left his job and family to serve in Operation Enduring Freedom for two straight years, and has taught me that serving others is better than living our dreams. He has shown me that a life worth living is only worth living when we see others are more and our selves as less.
My husband, The Huntmans, Charles, who first served our country as a Marine in Iraq and now serves our city and community as a police officer. I am astonished, and humbled, by his integrity even when no one is looking, and his commitment to justice. I am grateful for how he teaches our children what service looks like and that everything worth honoring comes at a heavy price. I am so honored to be his wife and glad that my children call their hero, “daddy.”
All the men and women of our armed forces, law enforcement, and fire and rescue services. Thank you for you sacrifice and service, no matter the price. Our nation is forever in your debt. We honor you and families. Thank you for being willing to fall so that we may stand.
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.