I remember in great detail a day that I was in high school. It may seem insignificant to some. I thought it was at the time myself. But the more years I have behind me, the more I realize that an interaction I had that day just might have been one of the most important of my life. It is also the day that I learned that heroes come in all shapes and sizes.
I was a senior in high school, spending the afternoon at the neighborhood library, doing some research for a report I had due in one of my classes. I walked with canes at the time and was standing at the card catalog (Did I just date myself? Grin!) looking up the call number for I book I needed. I was in the middle of the process when a little boy approached me. He must have been about five years old.
“Why do you walk so funny?”
I was used to the question. The curiosity of kids always makes me smile.
I gave him my standard answer. “Well, my legs are not as strong as yours are, so my canes help me to stand up and walk.”
He was quiet for just a moment as if he was trying to soak in what I had just said. Then came his response.
“My legs are okay, but I cough a lot.”
He looked confused as I laughed out loud, and even more puzzled when I asked him for a hug. After giving me one, he wandered away, probably never giving our exchange a second thought. For him, the whole conversation is likely buried deep in his mind, and like most other childhood experiences, forgotten as soon as a new one took its place.
That wasn’t the case for me. Some people might wonder why a simple conversation with a small child had such a profound effect on me. It was because, in the space of one sentence, that little boy leveled the playing field between us. After hearing that I was “different”, he was quick to point out a way that we were the same.
There have been countless times in the years since that people have considered my physical difference to be a weakness. In some cases, because of our circumstances, some people have considered themselves to be “better’ than I am. Sometimes that is hard. Sometimes it hurts. And sometimes life just isn’t fair.
There have been numerous times in my life when I have had to work very hard to prove to others that I am equal. And there have been those times when all my efforts are in vain. But every once in a while, when I am having a really bad day, I think back to that afternoon at the library, when a little boy reminded me that I was just like him.
Can a five-year-old child be a hero?
Yes, I say, indeed he can!