Keeping Our Pocket Heroes Close

by Emily Kemme

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.

Radiology resident Harrison arrives home wearing a leaf found in the yard of his Atlanta home — which clearly gets more water than we do in Colorado. (Photo: M. Kemme)
High school Harrison had a penchant for heroic costumes, although this one defies definition. (Photo: D. Kemme)

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.

Harrison still hangs on to his baby blanky. Most recently, he used it to comfort Moro after her surgery.

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.

Dr. K., Dr. D., and Dr. S. — all Oncology heroes, are staying on course during this pandemic. (Photo: M. Scott)
And then there are the at-home heroes, particularly the one who lets me live with four collies.

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?

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Diane S Bassett November 27, 2020 - 4:39 pm

Love this blog, especially the blanky (check), the dogs, the mask, and the heroes. But…. if you use the FitXR and miss hitting one of the lights rushing toward you, do you die or even worse, gain a pound?

Emily Kemme November 27, 2020 - 5:22 pm

Well, remember, the FitXR is a virtual boxing game. At the worst, missing one of the lights will restart your “streak” count, essentially delivering a blow to the ego. So far, they haven’t figured out how to calculate weight loss, real or virtual.

Lu Soto Mahan November 27, 2020 - 1:19 pm

Pocket heroes are the best!

Freda Spencer November 25, 2020 - 12:14 pm

Happy Thanksgiving, My kids and especially Little Sister!!!!

Deb Larsen November 23, 2020 - 9:28 pm

Love, love, love this!

Karen Hewitt Sutton November 23, 2020 - 2:33 pm

There are many !!!!!

Carol McConnell November 22, 2020 - 11:10 am

Enjoyed reading pocket heroes! Happy Thanksgiving!

Emily Kemme November 22, 2020 - 11:11 am

Thanks! Happy Thanksgiving to you guys, too.

Bill Bohnenblust November 22, 2020 - 11:09 am

That was great. But, Wonder Woman for me big time!

Emily Kemme November 22, 2020 - 11:11 am

I’ll look for a Wonder Woman balloon at the grocery store so I’m ready for that next time!

AK November 21, 2020 - 10:53 am

Great piece!!💕

Richard Panawash November 21, 2020 - 10:49 am

So right,Hello Em.

Lynne Hugo November 21, 2020 - 6:32 am

My heroes are definitely the frontline nurses, nurses aides, orderlies, and docs who show up every day to take care of critically ill Covid patients and then have to go out and beg people to wear masks, to actually argue about whether or not this is “real.” They’re the ones holding hands with and phones for the dying, the ones who are exhausted, feeling overwhelmed and burned out, and yet they push themselves to go on and on. We owe them so much and so many of us are not making anywhere close to the sacrifices they are making. I want to thank them over and over and over, and also beg people to do what they are asking us to do. Good article, Emily. Thanks to you!

Anonymous November 21, 2020 - 11:20 am


Emily Kemme November 21, 2020 - 8:01 pm

Thank you for your so-on-point comment, Lynne. Our pocket heroes have so many levels of individual meaning. Sending a hug. 💗


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