65: My Hero

65: My Hero

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering & Giving Back

My Hero

I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.

~Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum

I stared at the black box sitting in the bathroom. “I must have heard wrong. Certainly. Please, Lord.” I waited, frozen. The sticky May air, combined with the hot curlers in my hair, was causing me to sweat. My heart beat wildly as I watched the box, hoping, praying that it would be silent.

“There’s a man on the water tower! He’s got a gun, and he’s shooting at people!” The distressed voice of a police officer shattered the air. “We’ve got to block off the streets!”

“This isn’t happening,” I tried to convince myself. “This is NOT happening!”

I ran to the phone and called my mother. “What is going on?” I practically yelled into the phone.

“I’m not sure. Your dad is on his way to find out.” By the sound of her voice, I knew that she, too, was trying hard not to panic. As the principal of our school, graduation day was already hectic for her. That, coupled with the fact that my father, who had just been released from the hospital, was on his way to a possibly life-threatening crime scene, and I, her last child, would be graduating that night, could only have made the panic of the situation more pronounced.

I looked at the radio again, reminding myself that bad things like this just don’t happen in our small town of approximately 1,200 people. Gunmen on water towers were only for the movies and big cities.

The large box radio was actually my dad’s connection to his volunteer job with the fire department and ambulance service in our city. Before we had moved to the small town, my dad had been a full-time firefighter on the large Kansas City force. In a change of pace from the big city, our move had brought volunteer-only opportunities on the rural department.

My father’s life had always been about helping others. After graduating from high school not knowing how to read, he worked hard to overcome the odds against him and began a life of service. He taught himself to read, became a firefighter, received his certificate in emergency medicine, founded and pastored a church, and founded a volunteer-staffed school with the vision of providing an affordable education for children who were like he had been. He also went on to become the chief of police of a larger town near us. His hospital trip resulted from a scaffold falling on him while he was helping me decorate for my graduation. My mother always joked that if there had been a volunteer trash department, my father would have been in it.

A screaming voice jerked me from my thoughts. “Unit 18! Somebody get unit 18!”

They were calling for my father. I stared at the big red numbers on my clock — 6:00 p.m. One hour left before I was going to graduate from high school. One hour. Why now? Why MY father? Get someone else! My mind was racing. People were on their way for MY graduation. What was supposed to be a memory-filled night had the potential to turn out tragic.

My dad was in no condition to be climbing a water tower, but I knew that was exactly what he was going to do.

I called our school secretary as my mind raced with worst-case scenarios. “He knows what he is doing,” she reminded me. This hadn’t been his first time climbing a tower to rescue someone.

“He’s going up!”

I looked in horror at the radio.

“Unit 18 is going up!”

“Why do you always have to be the hero?” I cried to no one in particular.

I waited in silence for what seemed like an eternity. Tears came as I pictured a graduation without him. Minutes ticked by like years as I waited for something. Anything.

“They are coming down.” I exhaled for the first time in thirty minutes, and I suddenly realized that life was moving again. Thanking God, I dressed quickly for graduation.

Graduation began late, but the day’s events made us even more thankful that we could all be together — happy, healthy and safe. A few minutes didn’t seem to matter after such an unbelievable day.

As I rose to give my speech, I thanked those who had played a significant role in my life. I looked at my father, with his broad shoulders, bruised face and tear-filled eyes. My admiration for the man overwhelmed me.

“Tonight you were the town’s hero,” I said through my tears. “But you will always be mine.”

~Corrie Lopez

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