What does it take to be hero? Does it take super powers? Does it help to be a billionaire with an unlimited budget for creating all kinds of cool gadgets to assist you in your fight against evil? Does it mean you have to do something big--like save a life, a city, or the world? Do you need society to honor you with the title of "hero"?
I would suggest that none of these things make a person a hero. Power, money, accomplishments, and accolades are all nice things, but they do not a hero make. I believe a hero is simply someone who goes above and beyond what is required; someone does not quit when things get tough; someone who gives sacrificially of him or herself with no expectation of acknowledgment or reward. A hero may not be particularly strong; they may be poor, they may not appear to have accomplished much, and more often than not their deeds go unappreciated and unnoticed by all but a few. But a hero makes a difference--and even small differences can ultimately make a huge impact. Most of all, heroes inspire the rest of us to be better, to strive higher, to be heroes ourselves.
The people on my Inspirations 2008 list are heroes. Each, in their own way, over the past year have made me think, have encouraged and challenged me, and inspired me to live the life God has given me more fully and faithfully. I hope as you read about them, you'll be inspired too.
Jimmy & Isa Arriola
These are just ten people out of many who have inspired me in ways big and small this past year. There are heroes all around us--keep an eye peeled for them and let them know you appreciate them. And remember, that as Mariah Carey used to sing, "a hero lies in you" too!
I'm inspired by her courageous perserverance
To feel like quitting, but to keep on going; to feel like you can't do it, but somehow do it anyway. To be brave. This is what it means to be a hero, and this is what it meant to be Jessica Lee this past school year. Every time I think about this petite Californian with a penchant for skateboards and 'jumping' photos I'm awed all over again by the courage and sheer grit she displayed this past year in her work in Saipan. Teaching was not easy for Jess, nor was it often fun. Trying to teach a roomful of teenagers how to speak English would have been a daunting task for anyone, yet, she perservered when many might have thrown up their hands and walked away. She smiled through her tears, worked through the pain, and walked into her classroom day after day with the dogged determination to do her very best. Jess made the hard choice to do her job when it would have been easier to quit, and in the end her students, her colleagues, and the school benefited as a result. She touched hearts and changed lives in ways she'll never know. The next time the going gets rough, I'll remember Jessica, and stay in the fight just like she did.
I'm inspired by his sincere love
"Only a few things are necessary, really only one. . ." (Luke 10:42a) These words of Jesus remind me of our pastor, Eliki Ravia. You see there are many things for a pastor to worry about, but only a few things are necessary, and really only one thing. Pastor Eliki has that one thing: Sincere Christlike love for his flock, for his neighbors, for everyone he meets. Without that genuine love all the other pastoral talents and skills--preaching, organizing, leading, teaching, counseling--wouldn't mean a thing. But Pastor Eliki loves first and foremost, and that love is what brings power to his ministry more than anything else would. His unaffected humility, gentle spirit, generous nature, deep compassion for people, and sincere love for Jesus shine through in everything he does. Working with the pastor as a church elder, I often tend to be a "Martha" worried about many things and frustrated if things don't go as I think they should--and that is all well and good so far as it goes. But Pastor is always the "Mary" choosing that good part which shall not be taken from him. I am inspired by Pastor to remember to focus on the one thing that really matters: Love.
I'm inspired by his servant's heart.
Have you ever dropped everything to wait hand and foot on someone in need? Most of us have stopped to lend a hand for a few minutes, an hour or two mabye, or perhaps even a full day. AJ gave us his entire weekend. I'm sure there were other things he could have been doing, but AJ chose to sacrifice his own agenda to make sure that we could stick to ours. During our drama team's tour of Palau this past May, AJ drove us to and from our performances (which involved considerable waiting around at times), collected props and set decorations, and generally made himself available to us to assist in whatever way he could. In addition he entertained and charmed our actors with his funny stories and guitar playing during our down time Sunday morning when the rain kept us from our usual outdoor activities. There were several teachers in Palau who generously gave of their time and resources while we were touring, but AJ stands out as one who was consistently and constantly there for us all weekend long. If, as Jesus said, the greatest among us is the one who is the servant of all, then AJ is definitely the greatest.
I'm inspired by her willingness to face and overcome her fears
Bev's made a habit of laughing that inimitable laugh of hers in the face of her fears. I've never met anyone so committed to doing the very things that scare her the most. Most of us run away from the things that frighten us; Bev runs headlong into them. And the amazing thing, is you'd never know it. For example, she's an avid diver--who would have guessed that before she came to Saipan she'd never been swimming in the ocean and found the prosepct of diving terrifying? She was a committed member of our REAL drama team all year long--even though she had never acted before and was very nervous about being on stage. That's why she decided to join the team. Whether the fear is physical, mental, or spiritual, Bev chooses to embrace the challenge and grow and learn from it. Bev's courage has earned her the rich, reward of overcoming her fears and being able to add new and exciting experiences to her life. Watching Bev live her life the way she does, makes me want to live the same way--not merely facing my fears, but seeking them out and overcoming them. Being that brave is scary to think about, but I can just hear Bev laugh and say, "Go for it!"
Jimmy & Isa Arriola
I'm inspired by their advocacy for their homeland.
Indeed the students have become the teachers. I couldn't help thinking that as I listened intently to brother and sister Jimmy and Isa Arriola (pictured above with their parents) speaking passionately about the islands they call home. They may have gone away to Ivy League schools and toured the great cities of Europe, but their heart is always and ever home--here in the Northern Marianas Islands. These former students of mine, now in their early twenties, are bringing the fruits of their education, their considerable intellect, and remarkable talents to bear on building up their homeland and preserving their cultural heritage. While many are fleeing these islands for a better life in the Mainland, these two intend to return to the Marianas to make life better here. Having lived here for a decade now, it's become easy to think I know all there is to know about the plethora of challenges facing the Marianas, but listening to their eloquent insights and thought-provoking perspectives during dinner at our house several weeks ago, I came to see that there was still much for me to learn. I realized that the ones I had once taught were now teaching me. For a teacher there's nothing more inspiring than that.
I'm inspired by her environmental awareness
What difference does it make? This was my pessimistic take on "green living." Can one person really make a difference? I didn't think so, that is until I met Judith. Judith is avidly concerned with living a more environmentally responsible lifestyle. She tries to eat organic and local. She recyles. She looks for products that are earth-friendly. And she encourages others by her example and positive approach, to do the same things. During her year teaching at the Saipan SDA School she took the kids tree-planting and began work on creating a school-wide recycling program. She's certainly influenced our home life, as Babs is now far more green-conscious than I am. Judith was the first person to who's ever been able to get me seriously thinking about how can I live a more enivironmentally conscious lifestyle. Observing Judith's care for the earth, I realized that even though I may not be able to single-handedly do much to stop global warming or end pollution, I can choose to waste less, eat and live healthier, and do my part to keep my corner of the planet clean and green. These are good things for me, where I live, regardless of how much of a "difference" it makes to the globe as a whole. Can one person make a difference? Well, Judith certainly did.
I'm inspired by her accomplishment and leadership
Not too many people can write and direct a full-length play at the age of seventeen. I know I couldn't have done it at that age, and even now, at twice her age, I still find it a daunting task! But "CK Girl"--whose real name I won't use here as she is a minor--did it. She wrote the script, directed the actors, designed the set, ran the lights and sound, and even taught several cast members to sing for her original play A Song From the Heart (I wrote about the play here, and incidentally expand on one of the other heroes on this list). She was a strong leader who knew exactly she wanted in her play and was willing to patiently push the actors to get there (and this was no easy task when she was directing her peers). Even among adult directors, "CK Girl" is unique in her clear artistic vision and her to realize that vision. I'm sure it was discouraging and frustrating at times, but she made it look easy and never lost her cool. Adults often find "CK Girl" disconcerting because she's so outspoken, opinionated, and sure of herself--I know she's thrown me for a looop a time or two. But, at least in my experience, she is always respectful and willing to listen and as result she's earned my respect and my admiration. It's always inspiring to know that your students will go far in life and achieve great things. It's even more inspiring to know they already doing it--before they even turn eighteen!
I'm inspired by his his example as a teacher.
"If, at the end of the school year, all my students can say is that I was a cool teacher or they had a fun year, then I have failed." This quote of Rafe's that I've paraphrased here exemplifies a radical truth about great teaching that Rafe Esquith has lived out in his career as a fifth grader teacher at Hobart Elementary School in Hobart, California. That truth is simply this: "It's not about the teacher, it's about the student." It's not about the students being inspired by me, it's about the students being inspired by their own potential. I wrote about Mr. Esquith on this blog after watching the documentary, The Hobart Shakespeareans, about his class. You can read more about the invaluable teaching lessons I learned in my original post. There was a lot I gleaned from Rafe, but this idea that my job is to empower students was the thing that's probably stuck with me the most. And I'm finding that he's right. After all when I look at students like those that share a place on this list with Rafe, I realize that what I find most inspiring and rewarding is not their admiration for me, but my admiration for them.
I'm inspired by her political courage.
A new, youthful face has entered politics this past year, one speaking an optimistic message of hope and change, one who believes that "yes, we can" make a difference, that we can fix a government that's stopped working as it should, that we can have a different kind of political discourse. Of course there are cynics who dismiss this new voice as callow and inexperienced, who hint that such audacity of hope is naive. Who am I talking about? Well, it may surprise you to find that I'm not talking about a certain black man with a funny name running for president. Her name is Tina Sablan and she's a Chamorro woman already elected and serving as a member of the House of Represenatatives in our CNMI Legislature. I don't know Tina personally, but I've been avidly following her nascent career in local politics and I'm inspired by what I've seen. She eschewed politics-as-usual during her campaign, running on a shoestring budget and on a platform of bringing change and transparency to a government that has been paralyzed by corruption and short-sighted thinking. And she's continued that pattern since being elected continue to valiantly push for much needed reforms in our Commonwealth. Sometimes, the prospect of meaningful change happening in the CNMI seems hopeless. Tina Sablan gives me hope.
It's nice to see that change we can believe in doesn't have to be reserved for far-off presidential elections. It can happen here in our own community and that's inspiring. Plus, unlike with Barak Obama, you stand a good chance of running into Tina while waiting in line to see The Dark Knight. How cool is that?