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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Heroes Among Us

By Silvia Uribe

It seems that most of us mid-lifers have a past life, or maybe more than one. Most of us have had more than one career, more than one love, more than one hobby, and many things of which we are proud. We have also, no doubt, had our share of mistakes, mishaps, confusions and (some more so than others) disappointments. I'm talking about general experiences that gave birth to the "persona" we are today. However, we keep many of those experiences as best kept secrets, known only to a few, even within our family.

I recently attended two memorial services for my friends Lloyd Saatjian and Metta Thomsen, both at the First United Methodist Church in Santa Barbara. During each eulogy it was obvious how rich their lives were, how accomplished they were, and how many lives they touched. They weren't celebrities, and they weren't particularly rich either. In fact, most would consider them individuals who lived under very normal circumstances. Nevertheless, once the details were revealed, it was clear that their lives were uniquely fruitful -- and particularly surprising -- to the many who gathered to honor them.

Whether it was working to benefit the field workers alongside Cesar Chavez (like Lloyd), or at the school kitchens offering salad bars years ago when these were unheard of (like Metta), my friends were recognized more for their service to others --

and for the impact they had in others' lives -- than for their family name, their wealth, or their business interests.

Time and again when I hear personal stories, I notice that compassion is one characteristic that makes us remember people, and be remembered. As a side note, this is very much in contrast with what the media tells our children to admire: power, money, position, fame.

It's too bad that we must wait until people are no longer with us to hear those stories. I wish we could hear them while people are alive so we could follow the example of those, for the most part, unknown heroes who live among us.

It doesn't take much effort. For example, during my trainings on diversity, I ask participants to share with the group about something in their life that would generally take others a long time, maybe years, to find out. That's the moment when the juicy stuff comes out. Usually, in a shy way, people share about their accomplishments, their proud moments in life, or about some hard lesson that changed their life forever, and made them who they are today. The real persons start emerging, and individuals start developing certain admiration for each other.

No matter the setting, whether it is during training or during a casual conversation with friends or acquaintances, it usually takes only one question to start people on sharing who they really are. Contrary to popular believe, if we are authentically interested, people generally don't find questions to be intrusive. Most are happy to talk about themselves, and reveal their stories. They are happy to let us be the recipients and the beneficiaries of their wisdom.

We shouldn't wait so long to learn from others or to share our experience. We all have a life to live and a story to tell. Sometimes we listen, and sometimes we share.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at

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