Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Singing about the Unsung

Oscar Wilde once quipped, "There's only one thing worse than being talked about, and that is NOT being talked about."

Tonight, several people averted Wilde disaster by being honored by our local newspaper at the annual "Unsung Heroes and Citizen of the Year" awards. Being on hand to celebrate in the feel-good stories that are often missing from mainstream journalism, I heard 8 great stories about 10 great people (2 were couples) whose hard work, selflessness, humility, and dedication to helping others were praised, applauded, and cheered.

One of my colleagues was honored as an unsung hero, and my wife's cousin was honored as citizen of the year, so although I was in attendance to support them, I found myself moved to the verge of tears (okay, I cried) as the stories of the others were read by newspaper editor and publisher, Doug Toney, who himself fought to maintain dry eyes.

From a women who started a Shawl Ministry for the sick and impoverished who said "a homemade shawl crafted out of love is a tangible manifestation of God's love," to a local builder who has personally crafted more than 500 homes, buildings, and offices in the local area, a stalwart figure whose edifice foundations have provided our growing community with a strong foundation of its own, the stories were heartwarming.

There was a woman who started up the Big Brothers and Sisters program here locally, who herself lost her mother when she was nine. There was also a two-year veteran of a volunteer fire department who spends countless hours fighting fires, taking certification courses, and learning the ins and outs of the operations. His fire chief said he was one of the best persons he has ever worked with since the young man came to his department at age . . . 16! Another retired couple have dedicated themselves to collecting food, money, and volunteers for the SOS Food Bank and Meals on Wheels, often resorting to haranguing his fellow lodge members for support.

Perhaps the most touching story once one of a gentle, peaceful elderly man who, through his work as a licensed nurse and pastor, has touched the lives of many people, most notably at the Eden Home, where he worked for 6 years. Having flown in from out of state to receive his award, the saintly man sat with content and proud eyes as Mr. Toney conveyed a story about how he took care of his quadriplegic brother from the time after he was paralyzed in the Vietnam war until his death in 1998. As the elderly man, who was two rows directly in front of me, stood to receive his award, I immediately felt his gentleness and piety, and felt a peaceful serenity fill within me. This was a man that was doing God's work.

Then there's the story of my colleague who has picked up a bus and his swim team and is in the pool with the team each morning before most people ever hit the snooze button for the first time. He's also taken over and expanded the local Swim club, dedicates much of his spare time to working with at-risk kids through strength training, as well as teaching many of the same at-risk kids in his high school math course. He is a now "sung-about" hero I'm proud to call my colleague.

The last award went to Kevin Webb, the citizen of the year, a man I have had a chance to come to know through my wife's side of the family, and a man I hold in extremely high regard. Eschewing attention and accolades, Kevin is a dignified, humble, genuine, upright man who has the courage and strength to live a life of honorable integrity and purpose. His words and actions personify everything a father could ever hope to teach his son, or every scoutmaster could hope to instill in every boy scout. As Mr. Toney said, the award was a “recognition and a celebration of the character, sincerity and integrity that [Kevin] brought to the task and mission that distinguished his service."

As a new day dawns and the albatross of living and surviving again mount around your neck, as you go about living your life reaching for your goals or striving to attain what you want, remember,
in the words of Kevin Webb, the manner in which you get there is just as important as getting there. Take joy in the journey!

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