I submitted this article recently to Catholic Online, though I wrote it originally in the winter, while keeping warm in Tucson. It can be found here at Catholic Online.
The first Ordinary Heroes of my life were my parents Al and Kay Brandon. Though they have each gone to their eternal rest, the lessons that they taught me and my sister have grown in importance as my walk of faith becomes deeper day by day.
TUCSON, AZ (Catholic Online) - One definition of a hero, though sexist, brought home the first Ordinary Heroes I encountered in my life. It stated that a hero is "a man distinguished by exceptional courage and nobility and strength." Then it gave as an example the following: "RAF pilots were the heroes of the Battle of Britain." Well, that is a part of my father's heroism. My Dad was an RCAF pilot during the Battle of Britain, as Canadians joined up to help the United Kingdom fight off the Fascists.
But, before he left to fly Spitifire airplanes as a member of the 421 Red Indian Squadron of the RCAF, my mother insisted on marrying him, so that he would know that she was waiting for him. They already knew of men who received Dear John letters overseas, and my mother was determined that she would be faithful to her love for him. They wrote lots love letters to each other, and my sister still has many of them, which my daughters have been able to read to see an earthly love that sustained my father while he fought for freedom. They are letters of undying love in the face of danger.
When my father returned from the war, my parents moved together to London Ontario, so my father could complete his university degree. Then he and my mother tried to find the right work environment for them to build a family. Part of my father's education was becoming a convert to Roman Catholicism, so he and my mother could raise children together in the same faith.
Like many men who went to war, my father had had his immune system compromised by the stress levels that flying a warplane into battle can bring. He developed crippling arthritis, and so they figured out together how to deal with it. My father became an accountant, and ran a small practice from his home for the rest of his life. My mother worked by his side, doing whatever she could to support him. She did bookkeeping in client's offices, since my father was not able, and they were a team. Early in this remake of my father's career aspirations, I was born, followed by my sister a few years later.
My parents were Catholics from the pre-Vatican II era, and though they adapted pretty well, and were faithful church goers, and contributors, much of their faith showed in their actions, not so much in their talk. They led by example. I remember the family rosary in the evenings, as my sister and I knelt at an ottoman in the middle of the living room, while my parents sat in their chairs behind us, leading us in prayer.
My mother told me a few years ago, before she died, about a decision that she and my father had agonized over for me when I was quite young, that they knew would have a serious impact on me. It did have a serious impact, and was at the foundation of my rejection of the faith many years later. Yet, it proved in the end to have been a wise decision, as through their continued prayers, I was not lost, just missing in action for a time.
My father passed away in the fall of 1983. I lived near them in London at the time, and my sister lived in Toronto, Ontario. Dad had a massive heart attack, and was on life support. The doctors told us that he had only 5% function in his heart. My sister came home that weekend, and we went to see my father. He had miraculously revived. We spent Saturday afternoon with him, and it was just like when we were kids. We joked with each other the way we had back then, and just loved each other simply. After we left, my father slipped into unconsciousness, where he stayed until he died several days later. I had the privilege of being with my mother when he died.
My mother was a strong woman. She had to be to care for my father and for my sister and me. We often misunderstood that rigidity that surfaced in her. As My Dear Wife also is disabled, I now can understand my mother and her love for my dad. My mother's example of perseverance, in the trial of loving a person with all your heart that you have watched physically decline, on days when your heart wants to cry out for mercy, gives me strength today.
My mother was no shrinking violet, and she called a spade a spade. Many years ago, when I was particularly off in left field, she prayed for God to hit me over the head with a baseball bat. About 6 years ago, her prayer was answered as God who had a better plan, allowed me to be hit in the head by a Ford Aerostar van. That incident left me disabled myself, and has allowed me to see the wonderful example that my father was, in how he dealt with his own infirmity. I have come to understand how difficult life was for him, and how much he loved us and God to never have quit.
About 5 years ago, my mother became suddenly, deathly ill. My Dear Wife and I, along with two of my cousins, were able to be present at the moment when she was ushered into the kingdom of heaven. The doctor called us at home near midnight to tell us that he thought my mother would not make it through the night. We called my cousins and met them back at mom's hospital bed. After she received the Sacrament of the Sick from the on call priest, we sat around her, and prayed the Hail Mary, Glory Be, and concluded with an Our Father. At the Amen of the Our Father, we all witnessed her spirit leaving the room to go and join my dad, and all the saints in heaven.
Just as I completed this last sentence, My Dear Wife called me to come and pray the Rosary with her. She had taken my rosary out from under the pillow in our bedroom. This particular Rosary had been the one that my father received on joining the Knights of Columbus. I have carried it with me for many years. Last year the rosary links suddenly all turned to gold. But, this morning as we prayed, Jesus fell off the cross, a reminder from my father to us that though Jesus died for us, it was his Resurrection that conquered death and sin. After we finished praying, I replaced the now broken crucifix, with the crucifix from the Knights of Columbus Rosary that I received when I became a Knight, further linking us with my father. Even though my dad has been dead for almost 30 years, he still remains with us.
My Dear Wife also reminded me that I could not have written this piece about my parents until recently, because I had not come to the knowledge that they were Ordinary Heroes in my life before. She is so right, and that serves as a reminder to me that finding the hero in ordinary people is about the eyes with which we look for them.
Michael Brandon is a Canadian Catholic, in love with God in His three persons, and in love with his wife and soul mate. He is also the father of three, step father of three, and step grandfather to 2 1/3. He and his wife spend part of winters keeping warm in sunny Arizona. You can visit him at his blog site Freedom Through Truth.
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