During the pandemic, we have a heightened awareness of those who are keeping the country going in the midst of challenging circumstances. The health care workers go to work each day, often with inadequate protective gear to tend to the sick. People go to all kinds of jobs, checking us out in the supermarket, collecting garbage, and keeping the supply chains flowing. If we look deeply enough, we discover that we are among those who make our contribution in our way. We too deserve recognition at least from ourselves. These are the ordinary heroes that we can pause in order to offer our thanks for their devoted service. One of my favorite authors is the late Leo Buscaglia, a loving man whose books have inspired me for decades. In his book, Bus Nine to Paradise, he speaks eloquently of these unsung heroes:

I recently watched some Would War II footage on television which showed several military men being honored with medals for various feats of valor. It was all very impressive. Amid the cheering crowds and fanfare were heads of state and generals pinning on the medals, and in some cases, even kissing the recipients on both cheeks. One man was being recognized for having risked his life to save his buddies. Another one was honored for having blown up tanks or downed enemy planes.

We love to pay tribute to our heroes, perhaps for what it inspires in all of us to reach above and beyond the everyday pattern. Certainly, I’d not be the one to deny anyone his medal, but suddenly it occurred to me that there are so many who deserve recognition for what they do, but who will more than likely never get it–no medal for distinguished service, no Pulitzer prize, no Nobel prize, no public recognition. 

 Medals should go to parents who successfully raise children through teething, tantrums, braces and broken hearts, and all the growing pains in between–and despite it continue to love them without expectation or reward.

I’d like to bestow an award on grandparents who, after years of giving of themselves, are not content to live their lives in their children’s shadows, but continue to grow and work, independently and enthusiastically.

I’d like to reward all the political leaders who are sincerely engaged in the endless struggle for a better quality of life for us all. 

 Likewise, I’d like to give a medal to the professionals in our society who maintain their ideals, practice their skills with pride and dedication toward a healthier, more sane, and livable society.

Recognition would be no less deserved for our blue-collar workers who help keep our cities safe, clean, and running efficiently, whose work we all take so much for granted and without whose daily contribution we would surely fall apart.

 I would like to give medals to educators who, despite low salaries, difficult classroom conditions, and often low public esteem continue to educate our young people year after year and for the most part, succeed.

I would like to single out researchers in all fields who spend most of their time in laboratories, with little or no financial support, seeking secrets with patient devotion-secrets which will enhance life and human well-being.

There are so many artists, writers, musicians, singers, and entertainers of all sorts who deserve medals for the hours of joy, inspiration, and beauty their creativity brings to all of us. 

All of these people make our society work and they should be recognized for it.

Of course, we know that there are less than ideal parents and grandparents, as well as dishonest and self-serving politicians, teachers, public servants, and professionals. Strangely enough, they are the ones we seem to notice the most, often to the extent that we lose sight of or take for granted the good that the majority does.

Most of the latter will never appear on television or in the newspaper headlines. Very few of them will even receive medals. In fact, they never expect them. Still, I think it’s a great idea and I guess it’s up to us to find the means of honoring each other.

It doesn’t take much–an encouraging, complimentary word to a good mother, father, an honest professional, fine teacher, or to a hard-working firefighter or policeman. I don’t think they’d care so much about a formal ceremony. A simple expression of thanks, a positive gesture, or a brief telephone call can have great value, also.

Aristotle wisely made an important distinction when he wrote, “Dignity does not consist in possessing honors, but in deserving them.” Good work and steady devotion to one’s principles do have their rewards, but a little recognition now and then certainly doesn’t hurt.”

Thank you Leo for the work that you did in your all too short lifetime, to be an example of what true heroism can look like and for all that you gave to me and to so many others. You are and always will be one of my true heroes.