Ironman. Superman. Wonder Woman. Batman. Thor. Spiderman. Marvel. DC.
He was not particularly handsome, nor was he a very good athlete. He also wasn’t uniquely skilled or exceptionally gifted in any particular area that people would notice. He was a mediocre student without much formal education. His work ethic could be generously defined as “distracted,” and some even called him lazy. He never made a lot of money, and much of what he made he gave away to others. While he did provide food, clothing, and a home for his five children, he and his wife lived under the poverty line for his entire life. He was not particularly ambitious and seemed to have no big dreams for changing or even seeing the world. By almost any standard of success, he was exceedingly … well, average. Below average, mostly. He had no great intellect, though many actually thought him wise, and no great talents, though he did enjoy working with leather. His personality seemed almost subdued. He blended in. He was not an extrovert, nor an entrepreneur or an expert in anything. He seemed to have no interest in being a leader of anything. He was content to let others step forward and make decisions. He embraced the role of a follower and a helper, and seemed to feel no need to prove himself to anyone. Most of his life was spent behind the scenes, simply serving the greater good and walking alongside those that others walked past.
Grandpa’s life was defined by a remarkable ability to make others feel accepted and valued. In his personal economy, riches were paid out by paying attention to people. He never walked past anyone. This made him a frustrating partner if you ever wanted to leave a gathering in a hurry! Apparently, everyone was worthy of connection, according to him. Shaking an elderly person’s hand, listening to a child, checking in with those who were alone on the edge of the crowd: this was his life’s work. The amazing thing is that he didn’t really say or do that much when he was with people, he just … showed up, and somehow that was enough. When you were in his presence, you hardly seemed to notice him, and yet you felt like you mattered.
It helped that he had an uncanny ability to remember names. Even if he met you just once, you knew that your name and story would not be forgotten. Once, in my mid-thirties, I asked him about someone in my third-grade class. He thought for minute and then spoke of each of my classmates by name, and also mentioned the most recent time that he had heard of them. Grandpa knew intuitively that we all long to be known and remembered, and that starts with our name.
He was what I would call a slow hero. Grandpa did everything slowly. Each day with him began slowly and intentionally. He would sit down every morning at the plastic table in his small mobile home and slowly eat whatever his wife of 60+ years set before him. She would decide what he would eat, and how much. Breakfast only came in two varieties for them: either a bowl of porridge with a few scattered raisins, or two fried eggs slapped down on a piece of toast. Coffee was also available. Grandpa would express his gratitude to his wife and his God and then eat about as slowly as one can. Forty-five minutes for breakfast? Sure. An hour, if possible. As if the simple gift of another day demanded a certain amount of lingering. Neither the calendar, nor the clock, could dictate him rushing past breakfast, or the nearness of the woman that had loved for so long. There was no hurry in this hero.
After the eating part was finished, Grandma would hand Grandpa the large, worn Bible near the couch, and he would slowly read a passage of Scripture. One chapter at a time at time, every day, every year. They would then transition from the table to the floor. Grandpa was not ready for the rest of the day until he got on his knees. For as long as any of their Grandchildren can remember, Grandpa and Grandma would get down on their knees every morning around their kitchen table. Achy joints would descend to the linoleum floor, hands clasped together on the vinyl chair, and, in a slow, deliberate voice Grandpa, would speak with his God. He spoke slowly, each word seemingly dug up from deep within, before it made the long journey to being spoken aloud. He spoke with his eyes gently closed, as if speaking to a lifelong friend. Prayer was not dramatic, just simple and plain, as plain as his porridge and eggs. If you stumbled upon Grandpa in prayer, you would think there was actually someone else in the room that he was talking to. And if you listened in, you would notice subtle pauses in his speech, almost as if he was both listening and speaking simultaneously. Gratitude was expressed for the good things in his life, assistance was requested for various loved ones enduring troubled times, and confession was made for wrongs. Wisdom was asked for.
Slowly, and quietly, the day of this hero would unfold in the most ordinary, and most sacred kind of way.