This year's heroes come in just under the wire, as 2014 comes to a close within mere hours of the posting of this entry. Had I completed my entry in late summer as is my usual practice the last four names might not have been on the list, though all four have continually inspired me. Indeed Grandma and Dad were both recognized as major influences in my life in my 2007 Influential People series. Though not specifically held up as heroes at the time, I honored both of them as such at the heroes receptions I held with my students a few years back, and I was honored that Dad, at least, was able to attend the reception and be honored publicly. And Joy joins Virleshay Gayatin (2007 and 2009) and Keisha Paez (2007 and 2011), to make a rare trio that have been twice honored as inspirations.
But this has been a year that has ended in grief and loss, and in the midst of this mourning, there is Joy, and peace and inspiration that has come out of this painful time. I have been inspired anew by these four and so they have a place of honor on this year's list.
My nominees this year are professionals and laymen, unlikely runners and improbable philanthropists, superintendents and students, old and young, distant strangers and family close to my heart. They are four women and seven men. Together they offer determination in the face of adversity, encouragement and counsel, generosity and grace, wisdom that comes from experience and wisdom that comes in innocence. These qualities are just what I have needed to inspire me in often difficult year.
Herewith, my heroes and inspirations for the year 2014:
Dick & Rick Hoyt
William Leen & Enid Thomson
A brief note on the photo accompanying my father-in-law Bill Leen and my grandmother Enid Thomson. I have chosen photos of them in their youth, though I wasn't even born when they looked this way because this how they will see each other when they meet for the first time. I can't wait for that day!
I'm inspired by his achievement of his life-long dream
Only a realist like Paul could have made his dream come true. We all fly in our dreams. But for Paul, flying in his dreams wasn't enough. As long as I've known him, since we met as third graders, Paul has wanted to fly, to be pilot. And he didn't just want to fly a little Cessna and be a weekend flyer. He wanted to pilot the big planes, the jet airliners. He knew all the planes, memorized all the flight attendant and pilot chatter he heard on planes. It's one of those career goals kids tend to have: cowboy, firefighter, astronaut, pilot. But Paul never let the childhood dream die. While all the doctors and policemen, movie stars and athletes fell away in the face of reality, Paul transformed his dream into reality. Earlier this year Paul finally earned his stripes as a full-fledged captain, earning his left-seat privileges and command of his own plane with JetBlue Airlines. I admire Paul for his focus, dedication, and effort in achieving his dream and I am in awe of all he has accomplished. He inspires me to believe that if he can fly high,so can I.
I'm inspired by her encouragement
Tamaria reminded me that I am writer. After five years as a math and science teacher, most people don't even know that writing is something that I love and something that I do well. But Tamaria Kulemeka, my colleague at Columbus Adventist Academy and an oustanding English teacher and writer in her own right knows. And she has encouraged me, just as she would one of her students in whom she sees a special talent, to keep on writing, even though writing is not currently a major part of my professional life. Once earlier this year during some down time between teacher meetings she read through the first few pages of my unpublished novel and her enthusiasm and encouragement in reaction to the story, got me thinking about writing again. She did more than compliment the work, she encouraged me to keep at it, to not let my gift atrophy. Thanks to Tamaria, I've started making more of an effort to keep up with my pen & paper journal, I've started mulling over how to move my novel manuscript to the next step, and I've even been jotting down notes for a new book idea. And if one day you see my name on cover of a book in Barnes and Nobles or an Amazon web page, you'll likely find Tamaria's name inside in the list of acknowledgements. Tamaria, you're encouraging spirit may not only change the lives the students in your classroom, but also the lives of your colleagues as well!
I'm inspired by her generous heart
I can't begin to tell you all that Ruth-Ann has done. And that's not because her generosity has made such a difference (though it has). It's because Ruth-Ann's generosity has largely been in secret where only her Father in heaven sees and where I know He rewards her daily in ways untold. She will never trumpet her own giving, but I want to shout it from the roof tops, if only to let her know how deeply grateful I am and to let her know that she has made an lifelong difference in the lives of many. One example I can share is the Brandon Je'Zhon Williams Mathematics and Science Scholarship fund she established in the name of her son who was tragically killed in an auto accident a year and a half ago. She awarded the first recipient of the scholarship from my graduating class this past June.
Ruth-Ann has gone through unimaginable tragedy in her life, and yet she has still found the strength and heart to extend grace, even in her grief, to those around her. For this, I applaud her. And I believe on that final day when she once again holds her son in her arms, heaven will applaud her too with the words, "Well done, Thou good and faithful servant."
Dick & Rick Hoyt
I'm inspired by their mutual determination
I can't watch this father-son team without getting choked up. To watch the joy on Rick's face and the satisfaction on his father's face is to experience something truly beautiful. These two men have blessed each other over the years as they have completed marathons (including Boston multiple times), triatholons (including the Iron Man Triathalon), and even a trek across the United States. Dick gives his son his sturdy legs and arms so that Rick can experience what he otherwise could not. Rick gives his father the immense reward that comes from his son's joy, not to mention the physical benefits of a highly active life. It is a synergy of grace that can't help but remind me of my own heavenly Father who carries me all the way.
I'm inspired by his wise counsel
If a wise man once said it, there's a good chance Keith Rodman was talking. Through the years while he was education superintendent for the Guam-Micronesia Mission during Barbara's tenure as principal of the Saipan Seventh-day Adventist School, I saw his deft handling of the multitude of fires that seemed to continually erupt across his jurisdiction in the far-flung Pacific. While others feared and fretted, Keith was always calm, reasonable, empathetic, practical, patient, with just the right amount of humor to leaven a tense situation. In a word he was wise. I had the opportunity to see that wisdom in action again this past year, and was personally blessed by his listening ear and sound advice.
I'm inspired by his achievement against the odds
Nothing is impossible. This is the caption to the picture of Andrews' life thus far. Andrews ability to overcome obstacles, to achieve when all hope seemed lost, is a source of true amazement and inspiration to me. In his academic achievements, in his onstage performances, in his success on some key undertakings during his 8th grade year at CAA, Andrews astounded those around him time and time again. I'm so proud of Andrews. He is my hero because he has inspired me to never say never when the apparently impossible looms ahead. I can hear his voice in my head saying even now "Don't forget, Mr. Maycock. With God all things are possible."
William Leen & Enid Thomson
I'm inspired by their close walk with Jesus
They never met. And why would they ever have? This Midwestern man out of Dayton, Ohio and this Chinese woman from Trinidad. And yet the trajectory of his daughter and her grandson brought them into near orbit. And they had so much in common. Bill and Enid were born on the 5th of June and 6th of October 1923 respectively. Both were humble, quiet people who spoke little but served greatly. They were both industrious and hard-working. Both had a gift for art. Both died in the morning at home, exactly three weeks apart, and both were found in death, as they had lived their lives, felled while on the move. Both Grandma and Dad meant the world to me. But the most important similarity they shared is that they both walked closely with Jesus. Dad and Grandma were giants of faith. They knew their "Big Brother" (as my grandma called Him) Jesus well, they conversed with Him often, and they trusted Him with their very lives. They brought the names of their loved ones daily before Him and because of that we were prayed for, buoyed by their faith. Indeed who is to say that it might not have been their very petitions along with those of our mothers that brought Barbara and me together. They were faithful unto death, and their faithful lives inspire me to walk more closely with Jesus too.
Dad and Grandma never met, but I know for certain that one day they will, and undoubtedly it will be their mutual Friend who will make the introductions.
I'm inspired by her gracious service
Joy has a strength that can't be found in mere happiness (pun definitely intended). And I can think of no person who better demonstrates the truth of this statement than our former student and lifelong friend Joy Lacorte. When I first honored Joy as one of my inspirations five years ago, I described her as a rock, a person of steady character (Read her tribute here). At the time, I had only observed her faithfulness from a distance. But the view when she is bearing you up in a time of unimaginable sorrow is a whole new experience.
Joy had come up from Southern Adventist University where she is earning her nursing degree to spend a week with us during her Thanksgiving vacation. Early on the vacation hit minor snags as Barbara fell ill for a few days and I had to work, often leaving her stuck in the unplanned role of baby sitter. By Tuesday things were looking up and we had a fun day in downtown Columbus eating at the North Market and treating her to Jeni's ice cream. The plan was to head down to Dayton on Wednesday for Thanksgiving with Barbara's family. But early Wednesday morning our world shattered and Joy's relaxing vacation evaporated. Barbara and I rushed to Dayton when we got the call of Dad's sudden passing, leaving Joy to watch the boys alone. I returned that evening to pick them up and bring them to Dayton. There Joy spent the rest of her break on permanent babysitting duty watching the boys, feeding them, and generally helping out where needed while we were caught up in a whirlwind of grief and funeral planning. The work for her was not fun or easy, of that I am sure. But she did it all without a complaint and even with a smile. So often we ascribe a turn of events to God's leading when things turn out nicely for us. But Joy seemed to find reward in events that turned out poorly for her, but allowed her to be a blessing to others. Indeed God brought her to us for such a time as this, and for that we will always be grateful.
I'm inspired by his simple faith
This is something my two year old son understands far better than I do. Ever since his PaPa, my father-in-law Bill Leen, died, he's been asking after him. Any time the names of family are mentioned, any time we announce we are going to Dayton, whenever I shared with him who would be joining us for a more melancholy Christmas in Florida, he would always ask in his innocence and profound wisdom if PaPa would be there. And it used to break my heart. The poor child. He doesn't understand, I would sigh. He doesn't understand that PaPa is gone for good, that we will never see him again. Until one day not so long ago it hit me that it was I that just didn't understand. Oh I know the theology of heaven and the concpet of death is lost on him. But in his own simple way Ezra knows, what I often forget in my grief, that PaPa is not gone for good, that indeed we will see him (and Granny and his great-grandfather and his great-aunts and so many others) again. We don't know exactly when, and so in faith Ezra asks every time, just to check: ". . .and PaPa?" And when he receives the sad answer that no, PaPa won't be there, he accepts it peacefully, without complaint, and with certainty that if today is not the day, tomorrow may very well be. Oh, that I could have faith like that! For while I can almost hear the trumpet, Ezra can hear it loud and clear.