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Unlikely heroes

Last week, I watched new coverage of the ongoing hostage situation unfolding in Midland City, Alabama. Sixty-five year old Jimmy Lee Dykes had taken a 5 year old child off a school bus after fatally shooting the driver. Dykes held the boy hostage in an underground bunker for a week until negotiations broke down and authorities stormed the bunker, rescued the boy and killed his kidnapper. Much has been said of bus driver Charles Poland, and rightly so. Poland stood between Dykes and the children on the bus to protect them. He made the ultimate sacrifice. He died a hero.

That’s a word that’s bandied about a lot, isn’t it?


I’ve heard single parents called heroes because they must be both mother and father to their kids while working full time. I’ve heard teachers referred to as heroes because they’re required to be babysitters and counselors and well as educators. And while I don’t diminish the hard work and dedication it takes to be a single parent or a teacher, I suspect if you were to ask why they do what they do, most answers would be along the lines of, “What choice do I have? It’s what needs to be done. It’s what is expected.”

For me, being a hero involves going beyond what is expected; displaying courage and nobility when others do not. It’s about doing the right thing even if it puts your life in danger. Soldiers are heroes. First responders are heroes. Likely heroes.

And then there’s Kai, the homeless, hitchhiking, surfer, hippie. An unlikely hero, but a hero just the same:

In the unedited version of this news report, you learn a little more about Kai. At the very end of the tape, the reporter tells Kai that it seems he doesn’t seem to have any concern for himself, that he seems to be all about doing the right thing and not even worrying about “Kai first”. Kai’s short response really struck me:

“I don’t have any family. I mean, as far as anyone I grew up with is concerned I’m already dead. So…whatever.”

He probably doesn’t live a lifestyle most would condone or want for their own children. Fresno, California is a long way from where he said he grew up in West Virginia. If I had to guess I’d say he had a less than stellar childhood, has done many things he regrets and has relationships in his life he thinks are irreparably broken. But despite all the emotional baggage and regret he’s probably carried around much like that backpack, on this day, he did not let any of it weigh him down. He saw the opportunity to do what was right, what was heroic, and he took it.

May we all be so brave.

“No matter what you’ve done you deserve respect. Even if you’ve made mistakes you’re lovable, and it doesn’t matter your looks, skills, or age, or size, or anything, you’re worthwhile. No one can ever take that away from you.” — Kai

Words too often overused

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I think it’s commonly accepted that the word love is overused. If I were to say I love Jesus, I love my family and I love a good pair of flip flops all in the same breath, you’d have to wonder (and hope, I would imagine) that I’m speaking about varying degrees of love.

But love is not the only word bandied about to a point where it’s lost some of its impact.

The Merriam-Webster definition of hero is as follows:

a : a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability
b : an illustrious warrior
c : a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities
d : one who shows great courage
a : the principal male character in a literary or dramatic work
b : the central figure in an event, period, or movement
plural usually he·ros : submarine 2
: an object of extreme admiration and devotion : idol

So when I see the word hero associated with a sandwich,

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or a video game,

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or even a professional athlete,

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I wonder if we don’t downplay what the true meaning of a hero is.

The following video from Worship House Media was played in church Sunday. It is a moving reminder of all the fallen heroes who gave so much for what many of us too often take for granted. (Hopefully, your computer will allow you to view it full screen.)

We remember our fallen heroes today and we are grateful.

(Note: If you can’t view this video, please click on the link to Worship House Media above and watch it on their website.)

Dear Future Mark:

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I’ve thought of you often over the past 20 plus years. I’ve even tried to track you down a couple of times without success. I’d hoped to see you at one of the two high school reunions I’ve attended, but I don’t suppose you had much interest in seeing most of those people. I’ll let you in on a little secret–me neither.

Even though we attended the same high school, I’ll always remember you as Junior High Mark. The guy with the horn-rimmed glasses and the army green backpack. While the rest of us stuffed our backpack into our lockers, you carried that thing with you everywhere. I’ll admit it came in handy, like the time you hit me with it.

What I’ve wanted to tell you all of these years since junior high school is this:

You’re a big part of who I am today. I know you’re probably scoffing at that, based on the way I treated you. Of all the many regrets in my life, not being able to tell you “I’m sorry” and “thank you” still make the list.

We were both picked on. Me because I suppose some half-breed Asian girl isn’t supposed to have a big mouth and is expected to keep her head down and not have an opinion about anything.

You? You were called that most hurtful and horrible of names: Retard

I suppose we both would have been better off in the short term by doing what they all expected us to do: cower down and not fight back. I fought back because, as I mentioned before, I had a big mouth and an attitude. You fought back because they were just flat out wrong about you. You were not, as they so cruelly labeled you, a retard.

You were the smartest kid in school. I don’t know the reason for your speech impediment, but I knew you enough never to consider you mentally challenged. I also knew a thing or two about false labels and assumptions based upon personal experience.

But back to the apology:

I’m sorry I joined in with the others when I should have stood up to them, for looking down on you because you were different. That day in the cafeteria line when I pulled on your backpack? You did the right thing by smacking me with it.

That was the day you smacked some sense into me.

That was the day you gave me permission to be different and to stand up to those who are threatened by anything other than the status quo.

You may think I left you alone after that day because you stood up to me, but you always stood up to everyone. Probably still do.

No, the real reason I left you alone was, to be honest, I was sort of in awe of you. You taught me something crucial that day. Something life changing:

True strength and depth of character is found when we face adversity and refuse to lose a part of who we are in order to be part of the crowd, that if you walk to the beat of a different drummer, you should do so unapologetically, and most importantly that oftentimes the most memorable heroes in this life are the unlikely ones. Thanks for being my unlikely hero.

Gratefully yours,

Kathy Dishman-Richards

“What you really have to do, if you want to be creative, is to unlearn all the teasing and censoring that you’ve experienced throughout your life. If you are truly a creative person, you know that feeling insecure and lonely is par for the course. You can’t have it both ways: You can’t be creative and conform, too. You have to recognize that what makes you different also makes you creative.”

– Arno Penzias, 1978 Nobel Prize winner for physics


This post is part of the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival: Future hosted by my friend Peter Pollock. To check out more posts on this topic, please visit his website,