A recollection of the day I dropped my son Harrison off at kindergarten popped into my head recently. That milestone was over 24 years ago, so you might wonder why I remembered it now — particularly since these days, Harrison is a second-year radiology resident in Atlanta. Over the past 24 years, wouldn’t other, more meaningful memories drift to the top?
Given the coronavirus pandemic travel restrictions and limitations, I haven’t physically seen Harrison since August 2019. The 2019 holiday season didn’t work out for a visit. He was drowning, learning how-to-doctor. We were tethered to our home in Colorado on the off-chance our daughter Isabelle would meander back into our lives. (Note to those who follow the blog: she meandered back last March, just in time to join us in lockdown).
Since then, I’ve had to virtually satisfy cravings for a Harrison hug, along with his not-so-subtle snarky humor, which is always more effective in person. To that end, texting and phone calls sub for the real thing. In a sense, I carry a virtual mini-Harrison in my pocket, thanks to my cellphone.
It’s not uncommon to keep visible mementos of your personal heroes close at hand.
Carrying bits of someone — be it a photograph, castoff button, or maybe a letter — isn’t all that uncommon. In fact, you might say it’s what we humans do to help us feel closer to whomever is missing in our lives. Like, for example, a clipping of a faded heart from Dr. K. printed in our college newspaper, the middle of which states, “You drive me wild!” I still keep that vision of crazy college days in my wallet, tucked alongside the less meaningful collection of fortune cookie predictions.
But back to kindergarten. Harrison was one of those blanky obsessed kids. We worried whether his flimsy yellow baby blanket — washed weekly, but never fully absconded with — could be pried from his stubby hands before sending him off to school. Becoming frantic that we’d be labeled as having one of those clingy children who end up living in your basement until they finally marry at the oh-my-God-it’s-time age of 47, Dr. K. and I researched blanky deprivation methods that wouldn’t scar Harrison permanently. The method we landed on was dilution: cut a pocket-sized square of yellow blanky that could be discretely carried everywhere, kept in the confines of the kid’s pocket.
The method seems to have worked. He left our house at 18 for college, and with the exception of a gap year before he began medical school, has never officially lived with us since. He married at age 24, and is progressing through his residency during a pandemic, the likes of which we haven’t seen for a century.
All this makes me think about what sort of heroes we keep in our pockets.
In trying times, we look for heroes — those gilded, glittering, muscle-bound characters whom we rely on to lead us out of our fear and misery.
Back in September, with cold weather looming and the knowledge that our casual backyard, socially distanced cocktail parties were ebbing away, I cast about for an activity to keep my mind off the fact that I didn’t know when we’d physically see Harrison and his wife. Then there was the lurking sadness of Thanksgiving, and the fact the turkey would be a lightweight — 14 pounds (slimmed down from the two 20-pounders I’m used to ordering so I can feed crowds). The final straw comes from acceptance that we are wintering the pandemic with four collies — specifically two rotten puppies who don’t sit long enough to allow us to watch even one episode of The Crown.
What I discovered was Oculus FitXR with a lightsaber chaser called Beat Saber. Dr. K. had been pursuing this exercise form in the basement, but I turned up my nose at the thought. It sounded like he was just playing video games. “Oh, but no,” he told me.
When I learned that virtual lightsabers were required, I was hooked. As we all know, lightsabers are the stuff of heroes.
But the more I box and slash away at the virtual screen in my basement, my mind wanders to those who are truly our heroes these days. They are the grocery store workers; the healthcare workers who risk exposure to Covid-19 but nonetheless remain dedicated to treating illnesses; and front line workers — police, fire, and other safety personnel. They are all my heroes.
There are other heroes, too. The election workers, masked and counting thousands upon thousands of American ballots in the middle of a pandemic. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who stood up to his party to follow the law in the name of democracy and do the right thing. Then there are the journalists working tirelessly to tell the stories that inform the public, exposing wrongs and celebrating rights.
Heroes don’t have to be super to have meaningful impact on our lives. In fact, the everyday heroes are good enough.
Today, these are my pocketful of heroes. There are so many more. Who are your heroes?