Celebrating Our Unsung Heroes

Unsung hero.

That was an assignment Jackson worked on in the course of the first half of fifth grade.

An unsung hero is someone known by my son who is not necessarily on the front page of the papers or the top of google but who is engaged in an effort that makes the world a better place as seen through the eyes of an 11-year-old. Someone who is a hero. in the eyes of my son.

When we talked about what direction he would take it the choice was singly and simply his and the choice he made was his grandpa Al.

How appropriate that as we approach the last week or so of the historic presidency of Barack Obama that Jax spun back in the way-back machine to 2008 (when he was three precious years old) and his Grandpa Al Mendez, a lawyer in Dallas, made the courageous choice to poll watch in Colorado to ensure that folks who wanted to vote and were entitled to vote actually were able to vote. And then again four years later Al again engaged in the good fight so critical to a democracy – making sure that each vote counted.

The medium that Jax chose was a charcoal rendering of his grandpa that paid full homage to his heroic and funny grandpa by surrounding his visage by pasting some of his funnier quips.

I thought of the unsung hero yesterday when I received a holiday card from my uncle, Father Tom. Father Tom, my mom’s brother, was the youngest son of Catherine and Aloysius Royer. And according to the old school way he went to seminary and became a priest. What’s interesting about Father Tom is that he came of age in the  60’s and the undercurrent that informed his entire life and mission was peace and justice. Relentlessly.

A poignant example of Father Tom’s spirit and work came in yesterday’s mail as he shared a picture taken of him in the early 1970’s when he traveled halfway across the world to engage in human rights work with one of the century’s epochal progenitors of justice and love, Mother Teresa.

Father Tom arrived in Calcutta with the intention of filming a documentary. He walked away (and returned several years later to Calcutta) with something much more significant, a further awakening apparently rooted in one of my favorite quotes by Mother Teresa, “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”

And so Father Tom pursued his ministry with a tireless devotion to sharing love with the downcast and poor. This was true when his Champaign parish in the 1980’s created a sister parish in El Salvador and continued to engage in relief work in Guatemala where state-sponsored oppression left countless innocent civilians threatened or dead.

As I gazed at the picture of Father Tom with Mother Teresa I smiled to myself and expressed gratitude for my own unsung hero. And I mused to myself that heroes such as these galvanize us and catalyze us to become better people.

Perhaps it is another admonition by Mother Teresa, “Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.”


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