Between the Lines: Saying thanks for life's small heroes

There are plenty of reasons to see through the glass darkly in late November. You don’t need me to remind you what they are.But there are also good reasons why it’s become an American tradition to say thanks amid the gathering darkness. On this holiday, I’m grateful for a few small-time heroes.I call them “small-time” not because their heroism is petty or unworthy. It’s just that their kind of everyday valor goes largely unnoticed.I got to thinking about that when I attended a wedding at the Waybury Inn this past summer. Not just any wedding, but one between two women in their 60s. They united in matrimony under a big white tent before a gathering of more than a hundred of their friends. Weddings are almost always touching affairs. But this one transformed pretty much every one of us into a puddle. These two female beloveds, who could have chosen to live together quietly, put it all on the line in a very public way.That made the event more than just a celebration of their love for and commitment to one another. It also made it a day to be glad we lived in Vermont, where people can join in full and legal partnership with whomever they choose. Even if that person happens to be of the same gender.The simple heroism of that act of marriage helped me see some of the other heroes around me.I know another married couple, for example, who were childless and child-free and well into midlife. Then they decided to adopt two boys from Ethiopia. They didn’t have to do this, to take on all the expense and complexities and potential heartbreaks. But they did, bringing the boys to Vermont while also maintaining ties to the boys’ family members back in Africa.Another example: Almost no one will notice the heroism of my dearest friend K. She’s way too introverted for that. But even in the face of family difficulties, physical illness and divorce, she has deepened her commitment to the inner journey. The depths to which she is willing to go, exploring all that lies within the psyche, inspire those of us who know her to go deeper in our own lives.I know another married couple, approaching the age of 50 with a son already in middle school, who took the leap and adopted a baby girl from China. The story goes that in China after the girl’s birth, she had been left abandoned in an open field.It took my friends more than five years, thousands of dollars, and hundreds of hours of effort just to get the right to bring a child from an orphanage in China to a cozy brick house in Vermont. They persisted through all those years and dollars and hours. And now when you see their bright-eyed daughter held in her father’s arms, she reaches out her left index finger to tap you. As if to confirm that she really is here, held by heroes.Yet another local couple with a biological child decided to adopt into their family an infant African-American girl from the Bronx. I don’t know why people would add such great uncertainty to their lives. But I know that they and the girl will be happier, and the world a better place, because of their decision.One couple of my acquaintance has been facing her cancer for more than four years now. She’s bravely dealt with it on her own terms. Her husband stands beside her to this day, helping to share the burden in every way he can.If I had faced the same circumstances, I could not have acted as nobly. But someday when a great difficulty comes, I will think of this couple and try to find some of the same strength that has sustained them.Sometimes we take on great challenges all by ourselves. Because we have to, or we deeply want to.For example, a friend of mine decided in the mid-1990s that if she was ever going to have a child, it was time. Even if she was past 40 and it meant raising that child on her own. And so she has done that for more than 13 years now. These days I share many hours with her and her daughter, grateful for her heroism and her daughter’s shining presence.The three of us are spending the Thanksgiving holiday together. As I near age 60, my days are sunnier thanks to them. And I am a late, grateful enrollee in the School of Hanging out with Young People.These are some of my not-so-small-time heroes.Look around you. No doubt you have a few such heroes in your own life.In the brightness of this holiday weekend, I encourage you to find a way to thank one of them. Gregory Dennis’s column appears here every other Thursday and is archived on his blog at E-mail him at

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