My heroes are broken souls who are pieced back together with intention and determination. The people I place on the pedestals in my mind need help getting up there and constantly worry about falling off and shattering apart again.
So many of my friends do not understand why I place them in such a state of reverence and have tried regularly to convince me of their lack of worth to be so esteemed. But when I look at the people in my life that I admire most, they are the ones who least expect me to be watching and appreciating who they are and what they do. They are too busy making it day by day.
I have always been surrounded by the misfits and the outcasts. My circle of loved ones are often misunderstood geniuses in a world of commonly accepted, average people. There is nothing wrong with being average. In fact, most people are. But some people who are not, simply cannot be confined by the space allotted to them in conventional society without damaging their souls.
Of course I have the artists and writers, the musicians and poets, who choose the edge of the social circle and push outward to expand themselves and the world around them. I love these free spirits who see the world so beyond my color spectrum, hear music in the silence I enjoy, write words that evoke emotion from the masses or maybe just from the one who receives the message. Yes! I love this group of rogue interpreters of life and I appreciate their roles in making me more creative and more understanding of the different ways life is experienced.
But they are not my heroes. The ones I look up to are the ones who have survived the mediocrity of life against obstacles they rarely name. These friends are the ones who may seem to be living the norm: the job, the family, the success, the comfort—but, their outside appearance is a cover for people who never see them. These perfect packages are filled with the kind of pain that time won’t heal. They are haunted by demons that others only dream about in their worst fever induced nightmares. They are the ones who fight every single day to move through the world around them without accidentally coming in to contact with something or someone that will cause their wounds to be exposed and the pain to be so intense that they finally succumb.
I love deeply the ones who wrestle with addiction and succeed, or don’t succeed, in staying clean or sober every day. I see their courage when they walk away from their drug of choice despite the siren call that is deafening in their ears. And I love them just as much when they take a drink out of the bottle and allow me to see that their struggle is real and they are losing the battle for that day. I look up to them because day to day living sometimes means making life or death choices that the rest of us may never face—but every day they choose. And every day their choices bring consequences that arise from sometimes clouded decisions in often complex minds. My friends know their addictions and they struggle to understand the purpose in having to survive this plague. I look up to their tenacity of spirit as they often stumble on their way to ridding themselves of this disease.
I am in awe of my friends who live with mental illnesses and try to make sense of a brain whose chemistry is often so out of balance that life is not just difficult but completely unfathomable to those they come in contact with in every interaction. I see them riding the waves of highs and lows and I wonder how they have learned to stay afloat when there is no balance or sure footing. I know their pain of wishing away the demons of depression that don’t just make them feel “down” but make them feel incapable of loving themselves or accepting the love of others. I can only respect the bravery that comes with facing another day with non-stop input from the world, or the inability to feel the worth of living, yet doing it anyway again and again, knowing the situations might get better.
The pedestals in my life are topped with survivors of abuse, survivors of abandonment, survivors of losses so great that the strongest “normal” person would never be able to recover from them. I place these shattered vessels in my mind above the rising tides and out of the winds that shake them. I hold them up above the water where they are afraid they might drown. I offer them a harbor to just be whoever they are, because I love them.
I know I cannot fix anything. I know I cannot even promise they will not fall and break beyond repair next time. My friends make references to speaking at each other’s funerals the way others plan a retirement cruise. Often there is nothing to say or do in the moment but laugh at the true insanity of it all.
I let these special friends know that they inspire me with every breath they take, with every day they chose to rise to the challenge, with every imperfect part of their souls that they are desperately trying to keep intact—they inspire me. They have let me in. They trust me. They allow me to love them unconditionally which gives me a purpose and a reason to rise each day myself.
My heroes believe in me and in that unimaginable vulnerability where they show me their authentic selves, I find the best of who I am.
Author: Andrea Byford
Editor: Travis May
Image: Flickr/Rodrigo Huerta