I believe that the world is made up of ordinary heroes. I believe that people do the best they can with what they’ve got and not everybody is trying to keep up with the Jones’s. I believe there is nobility in waking up each morning and going about your business. I believe that there is something extraordinary about doing your job well and family proud, even if the only reward you receive is another day to do it.
My grandfather was the type of man that never missed a day of work. He was unconcerned about politics and political correctness and wholly consumed with the proper way to treat your wife, raise your children, and reel in a halibut. In his eighth decade I sometimes failed to see it, but he was a man of unwavering passion and devotion.
As an undergraduate I would come home from school and try to teach him about the world, quietly pitying him for never reading Nietzsche or Hobbes. I rarely asked him about his own life, or what he might teach me about war, having seen it. I never asked him what he did to woo my grandmother; how he knew what love was or how to keep it.
I spent the last weeks of my grandfather’s life, those when the cancer had so nearly overtaken him that he could not even speak, wishing I had asked those questions. For days, I rubbed ice on his chapped lips hoping to he would whisper one more tired joke or repeat one more story, only this time I would listen…really, deeply, listen. I would catalogue each syllable so I would know just how to relate to my own children the importance of a sharp haircut, good grades, and practice, practice, practice. I would explain to them why exactly gossip is the business of fools.
My grandfather was not born into or relieved from this life a wealthy man. He was not extraordinary by many standards; like most of his generation, his education came from experience rather than university. He was gruff but patient, and believed stringently that there was a right and a wrong way to do any one thing. He did not concern himself with anybody outside his immediate reach, but fiercely guarded his family and friends. He did not preach to me about how to lead my life; his sermon was found in the way he led his own. He held the unadulterated belief that a job worth doing was worth doing well and that if you’re sorry you should say it, even if you think it’s too late to matter. It’s in ruminating on those lessons that I’ve come to believe that my grandfather was a hero, even if he’d hate for me to say it.
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