A long time ago in Illinois, maybe seventy years or so, my father worked in an office in Champaign-Urbana. It was the end of the day and one of his co-workers was running out the door to a dinner and suddenly remembered that he’d forgotten to pick up some documents for a meeting the next morning. It was a small errand, something that a messenger boy would have done back then in the 1930s.
But no one else was left in the office and so my father offered to help. The man gave my father an address and thanked him and ran out the door. My dad drove to the address he’d been given. It was small house and the lady who answered the door was a housewife preparing dinner. He introduced himself and she invited my father inside to wait in the living room while she went to get the papers. He’d never been in that house before and he’d never met the lady or anyone else in her family. But as he sat on the sofa, looking across the room into the front bedroom, he saw something familiar on the dresser. He stood up and walked a few steps until he could be sure he was really seeing what he thought he was seeing. It was a photograph of him, in a frame, set up there in a place of honor. He realized it was actually a picture that been clipped from a newspaper article about him and an award he had received a few months back for community service. He wasn’t a famous or celebrated person in the community and it had been just a small story about one citizen just doing something positive to help others. But someone had seen it, cut out, and put it in a frame. My dad was stunned. When the lady of the house returned with the papers he needed, he pointed to the photo and said “that’s my picture, isn’t it?” The lady nodded and said, “yes, that’s my little girls’ room. She read about you in the paper and she admires you so much. She says she wants to be just like you when she grows up.” Every time my dad told that story, he always ended it the same way. “I never met that little girl, but I never forgot about her. I realized that somewhere out there somebody had decided that I was a good example to follow. And I knew that I never wanted to disappoint her. I wanted to be the person she thought I was. I didn’t always succeed, but for the rest of my life, I tried.”
You know, it saddens me so much to see the news media create “heroes” out of sports figures and musicians and movie stars only to bring them down again, and in the process send the message to the people who admired them that no one is worth modeling. The truth is, there are real heroes, good people, quiet people, folks who just live what they believe, help when help is needed, give what they can and ask for nothing back. Those people are out there and if you know one, tell them thank you. And tell them that people do see them, that God sees them, and that their photos may not stand on a stranger’s dresser, but their good works are remembered and cherished in a stranger’s heart.