hidden heroes

Last weekend, my husband and I came to visit my parents for Mother’s Day. We were having breakfast on Sunday morning, the sunlight streaming in through the floor-to-ceiling windows of my parents’ condo in Vancouver, my mom bustling happily to and fro in her house coat, a bright little bandanna covering her head.

“So your hair’s growing back nicely, huh, Ma?” I asked her. She’s all done with chemotherapy and is halfway through her radiation treatments. While radiation is tiring, she’s over the worst of it all and is feeling healthier each day.

“Oh, yes!” she said. She took off her bandanna and revealed a short new crop of salt and pepper hair. She rubbed her head absentmindedly while she put a K-cup in her Keurig machine.

So this is what a cancer survivor looks like, I thought. Somehow, the moment wasn’t what I expected it to be.

I think it’s safe to say that most of us are conditioned to expect life to be like the movies. In the movies, when someone overcomes some immense difficulty, there’s always a helpful montage of the heroine’s journey, taking us through her painstaking struggle, setting us up for the satisfying denouement. We are taken on a guided tour of her emotional pilgrimage with careful editing, a compelling soundtrack, well-placed camera angles, artful composition, and lighting.

That morning, there was no soundtrack. There were no flattering lights. The timing was not pre-meditated. It was just me, my mom, and her semi-bald head.

In real life, heroes and heroines are almost always hidden from plain sight. They carry on with their lives each carrying their own crosses, invisible from the rest of the world, untouched by the artificiality of commercial story-telling. Their battles and victories are only known to the people who take the time to play witness to their stories – those who stand by them in the darkest and dreariest seasons, who have seen enough and shared enough of their pain to truly understand and appreciate their new beginnings. There is no glamour in being a real life heroine. There is no ceremony, no pomp and circumstance. And yet, as I sat there staring at my mother’s short crop of hair, my heart was everything but underwhelmed. The mere sight of her reshaped my entire definition of victory. That single unmarked moment will forever remain in my mind as the moment when I truly understood what it means to be brave, to be faithful, and to be strong.

Yes, this is what a cancer survivor looks like, I thought. This is what a real heroine looks like. This is what perseverance, grace, hope, and divine providence looks like: a semi-bald woman on a Sunday morning, making a cup of coffee…cancer-free.

There are hidden heroes everywhere. You don’t need to go looking for them any further than your own life. Nobody is going to make a film in their honor. Nobody is going to write a book about their lives. The only person responsible for knowing their story, sharing their story, and carrying on their story is you. Find the hidden heroes in your life. Don’t waste your opportunity to witness their unique and exquisite existence. I have found one heroine in my own life, and the truth and closeness of her story is far more precious to me than any movie I will ever see.


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