A dear friend, whom I've known since seventh grade, lamented at her lack of worldly achievements while her friends were reaping the rewards of lives dedicated to public service and career building.
I gasped inwardly, because this friend has led a heroic life, incomparable to anyone I know. I told her so, and she found the word heroic funny.
I told her I would make a list for her, and it would contain only a fraction of her real achievements, because there are many, and more that I don’t even know.
In the seventh grade she was plucked from her life, her country, her language, and her family moved to Israel. She was placed in a Hebrew-only regular school where we met. She managed to make friends (while limping linguistically) and graduate at the top of our class. If only this had been her achievement, it would have been enough. But there’s more.
Her senior year of high school her only brother, two years older and in the army, was killed on the first day of the Yom Kippur War. Her family was never the same; she became the best daughter her bereaved parents could have, filling the place of two when now there was only one. To this day she is the keeper of her brother’s memory, doing what their parents would if they could. If this were all, it would have been enough. But there’s more.
She married young and had three children. One of her children is autistic. Not “on the spectrum,” as many who are mildly socially impaired and receive this diagnosis, but think back a few years when the diagnosis was given to what we now think of as severe impairment. She kept her child at home and cared for her child. Beautifully, patiently, conscientiously. She does to this day. If this were all, it would have been enough. But there’s more.
Both her parents succumbed to senile dementia and for years before their death she cared for them as well, now that they had no other children. If that were all, it would have been more than enough.
And she did all this while building her marriage and filling it with love, devotion, and admiration for her husband. I know few couples who have the bond and mutual respect these two have. This, too, would have been enough.
But, no- there’s more. While at it, she completed advance degrees and went to work in a skilled and specialized field. She did this a bit later than others, for all the reasons I already listed. So now she is not the person running the place but the one who actually does the work…
This is for you, my dear friend.
The Congressional Medal of Honor is but a small token for your heroism. I’d give it to you in spades.
The rest of us may choose to remember that, when we count our medals and trophies, we can choose not to look at the empty mantle. Let's not discount the real deal.