Hero - the word evokes images of great men, the flash of swords, and cries of defiance against a formidable foe. Heroes exist in myths and legends, are wound into fantastic plots, and are pitted against fire-breathing monsters. In other words, they are outside our realm - or are they?
I found my hero one afternoon when my ever-twisting adolescent life had knocked me down. I had gone to chemistry and splashed iodine on my white shirt, gone to math where I discovered we had a quiz, walked down the halls without anyone smiling at me because I was fuming, and gotten on the school bus where the only free seat was next to the trash can. My very soul felt hollow and tired.
At 3:05 p.m., I descended the steps of the bus and began to trudge toward my house. The blinding sun hung in the sky but cold air surrounded me like a blanket of ice. Winter, I thought dully as I reached my door and fumbled for my keys. Inside, I collapsed onto the couch with some chips and flipped aimlessly through the channels.
When I realized that a half hour had passed, I jumped up, threw on a jacket and shoes and went to the front door. My younger sister's school bus hadn't arrived yet, but I knew it would come any minute. My attention fell to the shoveled path leading away from the door. I could go on the path, but then I'd have to loop all the way around our yard to get to the street. The shorter option would be to cut straight through our front yard, so I headed into the snowy grass.
I tried to take light, quick steps on the layer of snow but halfway across the yard, I realized I had made a big mistake. Our front lawn slopes downhill, and the grass underneath was slippery from snow and ice. The sandals I'd slipped into had absolutely no traction. My feet suddenly slid out from under me and I landed on my bottom like a second-grader. Feeling foolish as I slid uncontrollably toward the mounds of snow that bordered the street, I finally came to a stop with my socks wet and frozen, my jeans caked with snow, and my hands dripping with ice-cold water.
The sun was still shining as gaily as ever and the sky was a joyous, azure infinity. Even the snow seemed to sparkle and laugh with silvery splendor. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, wanting to be like them in their marvelous, heavenly perfection. I waited for their warmth and lightness to spread through my body, but in vain. I ended up only feeling the winter wind slapping my face. I opened my eyes again, looking at the world with a bitter scowl. It's no use, I told myself dismally as I tried to brush off the snow.
A few seconds later, the school bus sputtered around the corner. I was halfway to the bus stop when Maggie got out. She charged straight up the street toward our house, her round face beaming as her short legs propelled her. When her mittened hand closed warmly on my cold, bare one, my heart suddenly felt 20 pounds lighter. My face creased involuntarily into a smile as I asked about her day. "We learned a new song today," she said brightly, as always.
"Which one?" I prompted.
"It goes like this," she took a deep breath. "Red and orange and yellow and green! Blue and purple toooooo! I can sing a rainbow, sing a rainbow, sing a rainbow too."
"Wow," I chuckled. "I love it, Maggie!" I had never recognized the full splendor of a rainbow until those notes filled the air. It had brought all the colors of the rainbow beside me and swirled them into a beautiful thought.
As we reached our yard, I showed her where I had fallen and the trail I had made when I slid down. Her eyes bugged out and she clapped one of her mittened hands over her mouth in an attempt to suppress an incredulous giggle.
"Are you laughing at me?" I demanded, pretending to look mad.
"No!" she claimed as her giggles erupted.
I kept staring with mock anger until the tension cracked and the air filled with our laughter. What had seemed like a frustrating incident suddenly became the comical highlight of my day. I looked across our lawn and told Maggie jokingly that I couldn't go up through the snow unless she held my hand to stop me from sliding again.
"Okay!" she cried.
We must have been quite a sight: a six-year-old pulling a 16-year-old through the snow, the latter slipping all the way. We finally reached the door, smiles on our faces, and bustled into our home. Hostility stiffened the air between us for a while when I told her we should place our back packs neatly in the closet. I suddenly remembered the Jolly Ranchers I had and dug through my bag. I pulled out two hard candies and surveyed them: one raspberry and the other peach.
"Maggie," I sang temptingly. "Come see what I have!"
"What?" she snapped impatiently, hands on her hips. Clearly, the effects of our two-minute argument had not worn off.
The transformation was immediate. Her eyes widened and her hands dropped in excitement.
"Oh, cool!" she exclaimed. "Jolly Rangers!"
"Jolly Ranchers," I corrected, handing her the raspberry one.
As we plopped in front of the TV, I could feel the disappointment of the day beginning to stain my thoughts again. The despair spread over me like a chill as I remembered the ominous finality of the amber iodine spots on my shirt and the bus load of students watching me take a seat by the trash bin. I grimaced and sighed listlessly.
"What's wrong?" Maggie asked.
"My shirt got ruined today," I replied glumly. "Somebody accidentally spilled chemical dye on it."
"Oh," Maggie frowned, then suggested, "Mommy can wash it. Just ask her when she comes home."
I turned my head and gazed into her confident face. Her optimism was so simple, yet so incredible. I have a lot to learn, I thought as my lips twisted into a wide smile. At that moment my despair floated away and all I felt was the warm, comforting glow of tomorrow.
Thus, for me, heroes are not the stars or the sun that hang over your head; they are not the figures of perfection in a picture or book. Heroes live beside us, bringing sunlight and rainbows into our homes, as well as preserving hope and faith in our hearts. Heroes are the countless Maggies all over the world.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.