Most of My Heroes Don’t Carry Guns

It’s Memorial Day.

Which means I’m being inundated with reminders about what the holiday means …  a time to remember those we’ve lost, particular those who served in the armed forces.

I understand that. I appreciate that. And I even recognize the importance of supporting those who have served our country — regardless of whether or not we believe in the cause.

But the rebel in me questions if our eagerness to honor members of the armed forces has almost become so cliché that we don’t really consider what being a hero is – and what it’s not.

Being a hero isn’t about a title or a position… it’s about a behavior. It’s about putting your own reputation, sense of comfort or even life on the line for the greater good. It’s about fighting the fight for future generations rather than for ourselves.

And sometimes we forget that there are different types of battles to fight.

My concerns surfaced again when, over the weekend, I was trying to do some “spring is almost over” cleaning.

I found a button that said “Straight But Not Narrow.”

Given the recent national debate over gay marriage, I smiled when I realized I had been given the button more than 20 years ago. My smile soon turned to sorrow when 1) I realized that in the past 20 years, our nation really hasn’t come that far and 2) The person who gave me the button died years ago.

His name was Roger, and he died of AIDS.

He, like so many in our armed forces, died in the middle of a battle and with a great deal of honor.

Roger never hid his HIV status. Nor did he hide is sexual orientation.

In fact, Roger was one of the most open people I’ve ever met. If you asked him a question, he never sugar-coated the answer.  He sometimes gave you more information than you wanted, but he never pretended the truth was pretty.

Roger will always be one of my heroes: those people who not only stand up for what they believe,  but who put their own reputation and livelihood on the line to defend what is right.

Before he was infected with HIV and before his partner died of AIDS,  Roger owned a hair salon.

That was his life before AIDS.

His life after AIDS was dedicated to educating West Virginians about the disease.

West Virginians are good people, but they  aren’t exactly progressive… just check out their track record in the last few elections.

But Roger didn’t let closed-minded people get in his way.  He knew that closed minds are like closed doors… they just need the right key to open or unlock them. And once they are unlocked, options and possibilities greatly increase.

Roger was the key to opening more minds and more doors than he ever knew.  And the  possibility he was seeking was a country where  no one was infected with HIV again.

And so Roger knocked on and  sometimes knocked over closed doors so he could  share his message. He went to service clubs. He went to other types of clubs.  He went to churches. And he went to schools.

He went wherever he could be heard and wherever people would actually listen.

His voice was definitely heard, and people definitely listened.  I have no doubt Roger saved lives.

The only life he couldn’t save was his own.  The medical battle against HIV was in its infancy, and Roger eventually succumbed.

But like so many other warriors, he left this world a better place than it would have been without him.

To me, that’s a  hero. That someone I want to remember. That’s someone who inspires me.

That’s the type of person Memorial Day is all about.

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About Trina Bartlett

I live in the Eastern Panhandle of WV, with one dog, two cats, a daughter in high school, a son starting his latest adventures at West Virginia University and a husband who works strange hours. When I'm not working as a director at a nonprofit social service organization or being a mom, I can generally be found riding my bike, walking my dog and stirring things up.

Posted on May 28, 2012, in My life, perspective and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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