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Heroes - 9/11/2015

Three men risk their lives to tackle and subdue a terrorist armed with an automatic rifle, several pistols, a box knife and sufficient ammunition to create still another mass execution of innocent people. Without any question they’re heroes.

JJ Watt, a name most of you are familiar with, is a football player on the Houston Texans; he is the recipient of two awards for the best defensive player in the league. That alone is more than admirable, but he’s also an individual with a public image that includes endearing acts of kindness to youngsters with health problems and challenged adults, all of whom long for an opportunity to meet, be hugged and greeted by this man. He consistently devotes extra time to providing autographs for fans and is actively involved in numerous charitable activities. Overall, he is a positive, inspirational role model, for both youngsters and adults alike. No community can have enough people of his ilk. He’s someone to look up to, to appreciate and to value. He, too, is a hero.

Similarly, there are countless numbers of servicemen and -women, police, firemen and -women, etc., who on a daily basis bravely serve our country and cities by defending the democracy we live in and helping others in their times of need. I could go on and on about all of them and I’m sure each of you would agree, that there are special people in this world who contribute to making the lives of others better, safer, more meaningful and less threatened.

There is, however, another, even larger, group of individuals who, in the course of living their lives, contribute to, affect and enhance the lives of others. They, too, make this world a more loving, caring place for us to share; but for the most part, they fail to get noticed. These people reside in many different walks of life and differ educationally, ethnically and religiously. In most instances, they don’t perceive or set themselves or think of themselves as heroes. Nor do they receive medals from the president of France or the United States. The majority of them rarely get mentioned in our newspapers or on the radio or television. Nevertheless, their actions significantly contribute to enhancing the lives of everyone with whom they come in contact.

I’d like to share one individual’s story with you. Her name is Debby. I’m sorry to say I didn’t get to know her as well as I now wish I might have, but five years ago, she was diagnosed with cancer. She, like so many other cancer victims, went through the treatments available for her disease. But, unlike too many other individuals with a terminal diagnosis, she chose to live out the rest of her days in a positive manner and to provide her husband, children and friends with a role model that they could respect, admire, love and follow in the course of living their own lives.

Debby constructed a bucket list. She shared it with her family and friends and then went about checking off each of the items on her agenda. She traveled to as many places on the list as she physically was able to and shared her emotions, feelings and lust for life with everyone she encountered. The path she took – with the limited amount of time she had left to live – was to gift everyone who was emotionally attached to her or crossed her path with a beautiful message, that life is valuable and should not be wasted or squandered.

On one occasion, at my granddaughter’s wedding, I spoke with her for an extended period of time and was totally moved by the persona she exuded. Her joy and the positive vibrations that surrounded her were contagious. She demonstrated no “Woe is me” anger or “Why me, G-d” attitude. There was only thankfulness for the time she had and the life she still wanted to live.

Last week, however, Debby left this world. The following week, my granddaughter emailed me a copy of a Facebook message that had been posted by her daughter. I want to share it with you. One, because, each time I’ve read the words, I cry, but not solely tears of sadness. I also experience a sense of embarrassment and a feeling of inadequacy. I wonder if, when my time comes, will I be as brave as she? Will I leave the same legacy as she? Will I give my family and friends a gift similar to the one she left for so many of us? I hope so. But sadly, I can’t guarantee it. The powerful feelings in her daughter’s relatively short message had so much emotional impact on me that I felt an urgent need to share it. It’s my way of taking the gift that I received from her and dividing it up for each of you. I hope that you will be as moved emotionally as I was and that it will serve as a guideline for how you can live your life right up to the very end.

Debby’s daughter wrote:

“Two months ago my family was in Jerusalem for my cousin’s Bat Mitzvah. You can feel the joy exuding from Mom in this photo. She took her cancer diagnoses five years ago as a life sentence – not a death sentence and she lived the pants off of the time she had left. Mom left us on Wednesday morning, surrounded by her family. We held her hands, kissed her cheeks and watched her slip away peacefully. She wasn’t scared for a second. She was ready to go. She told us we would be sad, but we would be OK. Mom was our coach for life, and our coach for her death. As Mom said, we live, we love, we leave. She wanted to die living, not live dying – and that she did.”

In my eyes, Debby was also a hero. For what she left for others, for what I feel she gave to me through her daughter’s words, and for what I hope you will learn and feel by reading the message she gifted to all of us who still have life left to live.

What I desperately want to say to each of you is that you, too, can be a hero in your own way. Think about the gift you want to give to those you love and will eventually leave. Then, live it. Put it into action by living your life well, sharing your emotions with others, and providing them with a gift of love exemplified by the way you live your life.

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