In our world of big names and celebrities, our true heroes tend to be anonymous. I can prove this fact with the following test.  

  • Name the last five years of Academy Award winners for best actor and actress.
  • Name the last five years of Super Bowl winners.
  • Name the last five winners of Time magazine’s person of the year.
  • Name the last five winners of the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Name the last five winners of the Miss America contest.  

How did you do? I failed miserably. Here is another test. I bet you do better on this one.

  • Name five of your personal heroes who have died.            
  • Name five friends who have helped you.
  • Name several teachers who made a difference in your life.
  • Name five co-workers who made you feel special.    
  • Name five family members or neighbors you admire.  

Over the years, there are many people who have inspired me. They are guiding spirits I have known. Here are a few of them.  

One was an older priest who had poor eyesight plus additional ailments. However, his sense of humor made him an inspiration in observing the lighter side of life. The parish where he was assigned never needed an answering machine because he made his ministry answering the phone. He would frequently pretend he was an answering machine and state: “Masses are at 7:30, 9, 10:30 and 12 and funerals on request.” Or he would say, “This is a tape that has been programmed to answer 1,001 questions. What’s your question?” If he celebrated mass, he might have trouble seeing a familiar Gospel story like the Good Samaritan. He would stop in the middle of the reading, and just say, “Oh, you all know the rest of the story.”  

Another was a seminary teacher in Baltimore. If not for him, I would probably not be writing this column today. He was a masterful writer and poet, widely published and well known in the Baltimore community. He took time and caring to encourage me in my writing efforts. That was all I needed, and he provided that inspiration.  

Every non-profit that is successful seems to have a few people who are guiding lights for that organization. Within the countless non-profits I have worked with over the years, there are true heroes who are steadfast in their belief for their cause, whether it be an inner city day care, an animal shelter or a hospice. These individuals seek nothing but are motivated by the greatness of their cause. I am always moved by their steadfastness and humility. 

Many hospice patients have given me far more than I ever gave them. Often, hospice staff and volunteers become a hospice patient’s last best friend. These patients have shared their secrets of living and dying. They pass on their legacy of faith, hope and love to those who stand by their bedside. It is always an uplifting and moving experience.  

Who are your models, mentors, and spiritual guides? They might be teachers, co-workers, parents, relatives or individuals you only met once. It’s a terrific exercise to sit down and write out the list and the reasons these individuals made your top 10.  It will make you appreciate all of the good people in your life. Then think of the people who look up to you as their hero and guide. This is an affirming exercise to realize your importance, value and responsibility to others.