An Essay on the Website of
the Red Dirt Writers Society

With Honor
by D. J. Russell (May 2007)

            We all have those moments.They are the moments when we see our heroes, men and women already full of the richness of excellence, reach into their vast reservoir of talent and endow the world with a fragment of memory so fantastic that we are sure it must be Godís own hand that has frozen the timepieces of our consciousness.

††††††††††† Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.It is the ninth inning, and the Los Angeles Dodgers are trailing 4-3.With one man on, Dodgerís manager, Tommy Lasorda, sends a barely mobile Kirk Gibson in to pinch-hit for Alejandro Pena.Gibson, barely able to walk, stood strong against the daunting Dennis Eckersley.The count had gone to 3 balls and 2 strikes when Fate held Destinyís hand and they both winked.Eckersley threw his pitch and the hobbled Thor swung his mighty hammer.For the first time in history a man made every boyís fantasy come true, becoming the last-swing savior and bringing his team home on his shoulders.

††††††††††† To break free from earthly bonds and see your native soil through Heavenís eyes must make the heart ache with joy.On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin did better than that.They piloted a machine designed by man through a sea of countless stars, designed by our Creator, and landed upon the moon.Five hundred million people watched as Armstrongís feet pressed lightly into the lunar dust, and heard his voice as he spoke the words a generation would embrace, ďOne small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.Ē

††††††††††† These are stories that most of us know well.There are stories about which the truth and details may remain hidden.Some of the tales are lost in the annals of history or will be forever overshadowed by men of lesser skill but greater reputation.

††††††††††† And there are stories that no one but the teller of the tale will ever give a fig about.That is what I would like to share with you Ė the moment when the stars in my Heaven blocked out the glare of game-winning home runs and planting flags in soil 250,000 miles into the night sky.

††††††††††† My moment came on May 23, 1986.As the Salutatorian of my graduating class, I stood just off stage, waiting for the graduation ceremony to begin.Not being able to help myself, I was constantly peeking through the edge of the curtains in an attempt to spot my family.

††††††††††† I first spotted my father.He was easy to locate, with his unique mannerisms and decked out in that yearís trendiest t-shirt and work jeans.My dad never was a suit-and-tie man, but I didnít care - I was just glad to see him.

††††††††††† Once I had located him, my mother was easy to pick out.I donít know why I canít tell you what she was wearing.It is not a matter of indifference, just that my mom always radiated with the beauty that only a child can see, whether she was thirty-five or sixty-five.

††††††††††† Teachers ushered us away from the curtains so that we might begin the ceremony.The stage curtains were closed and the lights dimmed.Chairs, already lined at center stage, were filled by the graduating class Ė all six or eight of us.The curtain was parted and lights raised, presenting the graduating class of 1986, and perhaps displaying a misplaced sense of theatrics as one or two of us who could actually see failed to find our proper chair.

††††††††††† As they spoke our names and handed us our certificates, a process that you might imagine was not a lengthy one, I scanned the audience once again.I was about to return my focus to the ceremony when my eyes caught something unusual in the periphery.†††††††† I couldnít believe it.He had actually done it.

††††††††††† Let me back up for a second and give you some background.Whether your pantheon of heroes consists of the boys of summer, cowboys who wear their hats with the brims pulled slightly down, or musicians that can make their guitars harmonize with every beat of your heart, you will inevitably find at least one or two closer to home.

††††††††††† My hero, since the ever-so tender age of nine, had been Daniel.I had always loved him; after all, he was my big brother.Nine years older than me and the eldest of us four children, he was the gold standard of big brothers.

††††††††††† When I was nine, Daniel joined the army.Iím not really sure that I entirely understood what a soldier was or did, but I had seen enough movies and read enough books to know that these were the good guys-- they swooped in and saved the helpless, beat the bad guys, and always got the girl.How is possible to get much cooler than that?

††††††††††† I still remember being picked up at school and climbing into the family van to make the trip to Alabama to see Daniel graduate from basic training.Once again, I donít think I had a true concept of what a big moment this must have been for him.The only fact that was evident to me was that Mom had been smart enough to buy me books to read and keep me quiet and occupied throughout the trip.

††††††††††† Time passed as it has a habit of doing.Although I got older, and fine-tuned my being a ďpain in my parentís buttĒ, I was still like a kid on Christmas every time I got a letter from Daniel, posted from what I was sure was some incredibly exotic location.The ones I always thought were the coolest were Hawaii and Panama.

††††††††††† He even brought me back a machete from Panama.Although Iím sure that it was probably something that had very little monetary value and that it would doubtfully cut away brush even if the brush were brittle and partially broken anyway, I felt like I could conquer the savages of foreign lands single-handedly when I held it.

††††††††††† Sometime during my junior or senior year, I asked him to make me a promise.He thought about my request, smiled, and said yes.It was a promise that Iím not sure that I even remembered until that day in May of í86.

††††††††††† Yes, as I hear you breathe a sigh of relief that the backstory has been told, we are now back at the graduation ceremony and what I saw.What I saw was the keeping of a promise, and the single proudest moment of my life.

††††††††††† Standing to one side of the room, having for one reason or another arrived late, was Daniel.He stood, not in quite what I thought was a military manner, leaning against a wall.I was however willing to forgive him that one slight misstep, for in all else he was perfect.Dressed in all the finery that I had expected and hoped for, was my brother.

††††††††††† He was beautiful.Not in some movie star way, but in my own private sense of esthetics.I felt what an artist feels when he has finally captured, after twenty-three sketches, that lovely tilt of his modelís chin.I felt what the pitcher feels when he releases the hanging curveball that he knows the batter will never be able to touch.What I felt was that the image of my brother that had firmly rooted itself in my mind was finally given life and made valid by the man I saw leaning against the wall.

††††††††††† I realized sometime around that moment that real heroes arenít only that perfect moment of time, they are a composite of several moments and a multitude of perspectives.I also realized that Daniel was not my hero only because he was my brother and wore a fancy uniform.He was my hero because he embodied everything that I believed a man should be Ė honorable, valorous, disciplined, and strong.

††††††††††† I did my speech and collected my awards.I got pats on the back and best wishes for my future.I felt like a master of the universe that day.As I look back upon that day, the awards and kudos mean fractionally what they meant then.My vision is of a moment when the greatest honor came not from teachers or classmates, but from my brother.

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