Our culture has a tendency to highjack the true meaning of certain ideals and in the process we trivialize what should be very significant and profound life examples.
The one that irritates me the most is when the title of hero is passed around like a participation trophy on a little league soccer team to describe professional athletic performances. True heroism demands personal sacrifice, it requires a mentality that underscores a “greater love” for others and a willingness to take on adversity with courage and faith. For the next few moments I want to introduce you to a real hero who lives right here in our midst. He’s a man who epitomizes grace and perseverance every single day of his life and he has never once asked, “Why me?” He is too busy helping others…
Imagine you are 24 years old, full of energy and life, embarking upon a banking career that excites and fulfills you. You’ve recently graduated from college, your new job is challenging and fun, you’re thinking about your first house, you’re entertaining thoughts of marriage and starting a family and your life, your beautiful, limitless future, is bursting with promise. Then one day, out of the blue, you begin to notice the onset of a profound sense of fatigue that just doesn’t seem natural for a 20 something. A couple weeks later you feel a subtle creeping weakness in your left leg and soon you find yourself stumbling on the stairs. Finally, one morning as you sit down in your bathroom you realize you have lost all feeling in your buttocks and now you are frightened.
At first you dismiss your symptoms as stress, perhaps fatigue from your demanding schedule. When you realize it’s not getting better, you rationalize, you worry and an ominous foreboding begins waking you in the wee hours of the night. A persistent co-worker finally pushes you to see your doctor where you are subjected to a menagerie of tests. Unlike before, your doctor does not dismiss you after perusing the results, but instead orders more. You can see lines of concern on his face and a rising tide of panic engulfs you. He tells you your problem is neurological and there can be several causes, some of which are relatively minor, so you begin to hope again. You are given a shot of prednisone which seems to quiet your symptoms and gradually the panic subsides and life returns to its normal routines and rhythms.
A month later you awake to your alarm and when you reach to hit the snooze button you realize you cannot see the face of the clock, you are now blind in your right eye. Your doctor sends you to Duke where you find yourself sitting before a new doctor who is very intently reviewing your results. His voice is measured and soft as he gently explains that your life will never be the same. You have MS, Multiple Sclerosis, a disease that will gradually take control of your body, it will dictate your ability to move on your own, common tasks will become herculean and the independence you love will soon be a thing of the past. The ride home from Durham that afternoon is quiet and dreamlike as you begin to ponder what is next.
My friend, William Newman, made a decision on that ride home 36 years ago that he was going to face this challenge with courage, grace and faith. As he drove he prayed for strength, he placed his life in God’s hands and he never looked back. He knew there would be hard times ahead, but he was determined to never allow this disease to dictate who he was, or what he was capable of doing.
This is what real heroism looks like, my friends. For the next 15 years William continued to work in a very competitive and demanding environment at Wachovia. He married, they had a son and he built a wonderful, productive life. When he finally left Wachovia due to his disability he didn’t miss a beat; he became the most passionate, committed Ambassador for MS this region has ever seen. He speaks, he mentors, he raises money, he advocates, he comforts and encourages and most of all, he has never, ever, ever given up.
So, if you want to see what a real hero looks like, just stop by the Carolina Café at around 8:00 am most mornings of the week. You’ll find my friend, William digging into his eggs and you’ll see a man who has faced adversity and risen above it, who knows about loss and triumphs, who understands that courage, authentic courage, is simply a choice we have to make every single day. I am honored to call this man, my friend and my hero.