By TOM MAY
Pain was etched on every inch of her face. Stoically she sat motionless, about four rows from the front of the auditorium. Her eyes were fixed on the events on the stage, unable to turn away even if she had desired. A hero. A super, wonder woman.
No cape draped her neck; it was adorned instead with a surgical neck brace, propping her head to an upright position. She wore no special costume, yet she stood out from all the others in the crowd.
She carried no golden, magical lasso, though somehow she had roped the hearts of most everyone in the country. She possessed no X-ray vision, but her tear-stained eyes penetrated through everything else to the stage and a small 10-year-old boy who clutched a single flower in his hand.
Jennifer Doan, 27, leaned up against her fiancé in a pew in Moore’s First Baptist Church. A third-grade teacher, Jennifer used her body to shield several students from the mammoth twister that left the Oklahoma town in ruins. A fractured spine and sternum prevented a proud smile from gracing her lips, but they could not erase them from her heart. When rescuers finally dug our hero from the debris, a small boy clung to her leg as tightly as he now held the flower.
As people slowly emerged from the devastation on that Monday, so did stories of the heroic acts of teachers from two elementary schools. Sixth grade teacher Rhonda Crosswhite draped her body across six students who were clinging to a toilet inside a small bathroom stall. She told reporters that “one of my little boys just kept saying, ‘I love you.’”
So do we.
As tears flowed from the eyes of teachers, parents and children, the intensely personal nature of this story became overwhelming. The teacher in the neck brace would have been my wife. Or my aunt. Or my sister. Or my friends who teach in Henryville.
Almost every teacher I know would valiantly stand against nature’s fiercest foe, just as they stand for their students every day against culture’s turmoil, devastating learning differences or broken homes.
It’s easy to pick out the heroes who are thrust into the spotlight. Fame and fortune make athletes, actors, musicians and other celebrities our heroes. Do you remember the response of former NBA star and current TNT basketball analysis Charles Barkley several years ago? “I’m not a role model ... Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”
If only shirking responsibility were that easy.
A few days later, fellow basketball star Karl Malone, in a column written for Sports Illustrated, reprimanded Barkley directly: “Charles ...I don’t think it’s your decision to make. We don’t choose to be role models, we are chosen. Our only choice is whether to be a good role model or a bad one.”
Malone, not Barkley, understood that we are all on a stage. We all perform for an audience. The only question is how big the stage and how big the audience. Most of the time, we are not certain what the script will be. The only real issue we can control is how well we choose to perform.
Over the next several weeks, let’s take some time to think about what it takes to be a good role model; a real hero, if you will. What better way to focus our thoughts than to look at the heroes of several summer blockbuster movies. We will peek behind the mask of Iron Man, beam aboard with Kirk and Spock. We will ride side-by-side with the Ranger and Tonto. We will soar into the heavens with the man of steel.
Let’s think about the stellar qualities present in these fictional heroes. Let’s allow our spirits to be amazed by their strengths, relieved by their weaknesses. We will look for fibers of integrity, threads of morality, and cords of courage to challenge and inspire us. And we will be reminded that real heroes are not found on a book’s page but on life’s palette.
After all, you are chosen. Be a good choice.
— Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast.