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April 9, 2016

The Letter H

It probably isn’t very good for me, but in case you haven’t already realized…I think an awful lot. Not just about the kinds of things that most regular people think about…but about all kinds of things…things that most people don’t really spend a lot of grey matter on.

When I was younger, I used to think that made me a real wacko, very much, off the beaten path and I felt isolated, alone with my crazy thoughts. I remember many years when I didn’t have much hope of ever being normal, but I don’t feel that way any longer. Somehow, along the way, I have magically come to realize it is just the way I am and it is okay. I have, at this ripe old age, found a good amount of self-acceptance in my life and for that I am grateful.

So today, my intense, unconventional way of thinking leads me to HEROES and how we all have them, from the time we are young and exposed to comics or television shows with Superman and Batman for boys and the princesses in fairy tales, like Cinderella and Snow White, for girls. Yes, I know there are more ‘traditional’ HEROES like Super Girl and Wonder Woman for young girls, but it seems as if boys have their HEROEs identified more clearly. It seems as young girls, are more likely to be drawn to the dainty, peace-loving, innocent type for role model of HEROINEs, than to the strong, assertive person fighting for truth and justice. The look of the woman we admire morphs from the beautiful, dainty fairy princess into the confident, bold and powerful one.

Our HEROEs are our ideals, our best versions of ourselves that we hold high and look up to…wanting to be more like them…to emulate them, to possess more of the qualities they possess. Somewhere along the line, as we understand ourselves and the way of the world better, we learn to adjust which of these qualities we want to emulate. We learn to discriminate and to understand that perfection is an illusion…fleeting at best. So we adjust.

We reconsider. We reconstruct. We redefine.


I was 12 or 13 years old when my mother invited a friend of hers and her daughter over our home.

“This is Natalie and her daughter Barbara,” my mother introduced them. “When Natalie told me she had a daughter the same age as you, I thought it would be great if you two met.”

Although it didn’t take me long to discover Barbara ran in different circles that I did and that we didn’t have all that much in common, we stayed a part of each others’ lives for a long time.

But the real connection…the one that mattered most to me, was the connection Natalie and I made. Natalie and her husband owned a bagel shop. I worked there every Saturday night through high school, many times with Natalie who would mostly sit behind the counter and keep me company, all the while joking and laughing with customers. It shocked me to learn she been diagnosed with cancer and this was back in the day when a diagnosis was pretty much all that could be provided for people who had cancer. That and surgery after surgery. It was late in the 60s and although we were landing men on the moon, we weren’t quite as advanced when it came to treating cancer.

I recognized Natalie’s personality and determination as something tremendous, even back then, and today, many years later, when I think back on it, I am still amazed…maybe even more so. She made up her mind that there were still too many things she needed to do and couldn’t afford to die.

Barbara had given birth to a baby boy but was in no position financially or emotionally to care for him. So, Natalie did. Little David was the reason Natalie refused to let go, insisting that she had to be there for him until he could care for himself. And through some miracle of strength and determination, she joked and laughed and worked herself into staying alive for 18 years beyond the time that the best doctors told her she had just six months left to live.

After Barbara was discharged from her fifth stay in rehab, David, who was then 17, decided it was time he got to know his mother. Natalie and her husband moved down to Florida where she continued to work part-time as a bookkeeper. I visited her there, grateful for the opportunity to spend one last time with the woman who has always been my HERO.

  1. That’s quite a story, and yes, it’s great to have a hero! Thanks for sharing. You gave me flashbacks of when my dad used to work in a Bagel shop to help make extra money on the weekends. Those were precious times.

    I am reminded also of the little everyday actions that make big differences – that so-called “butterfly effect”. It’s a great effort to take on someone as a friend or mentor – perhaps someone who doesn’t have many friends themselves, but I’m always reminded about the “little actions” that make big differences.

    • Anthony, I am delighted that I brought you back to a place with good memories.
      Thanks so much for commenting and I hope to see you again.

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