Veteran’s Day offers an opportunity to think about what it is to be a hero.

My paternal side of my family raised firefighters and police officers. I think about how through the years, they gathered and shared stories of their experiences. I do not remember any of them referring to themselves or each other as heroes. Even though a statue on Long Island honors my uncle, an NYFD Chief, heroes were always someone else.

I reflect on my father’s love letters to my future mother, whom he met on a bus ride during “the war” – World War ll. Except for the day America bombed Pearl Harbor, my dad wrote to my mother every single day.

After the bombing, you could hear the strain in his letters, pondering about the war and what makes people fight each other. “Why do we do this?” he wrote. He wrote of the paradox of serving his country as a Marine while, in his eyes, abandoning his NYPD partner. Throughout the war, he had conflicted feelings about “serving his country” while leaving behind the needs of his community and family.

I think about the story about the day someone tried to run dad over while he was on duty. He fired a single shot into the windshield, missing the driver. Dad was a sharpshooter, known for only missing shots he meant to. Such was the case the day he chose not to hit the driver but instead only disabled the vehicle. At the time, there was great hatred, prejudice, and lack of understanding for the culture the driver represented. Dad could have chosen differently.

By now, you may think I consider heroes, firefighters, police officers, and service personnel.

In most cases, I do.

Not because of fighting fires and wars, but because of what directed them to live the lives they did.  The legacy of heroism they left wasn’t about their actions. It was instead about the motivation and inspiration behind their actions, making better choices even when they are hard.

Heroism is about choosing to do the right thing. It’s showing compassion to those who wish us harm. It’s when we honor and respect another person’s culture, story, and choices. When we make ethical and moral decisions not based only on our own needs but what is best for someone else is also heroism.

Heroism defines caregivers such as my mom, a single woman after my father’s passing, and who, in the face of adversity, keep the home fires burning. It’s the hallmark of those who, out of necessity, take jobs that they may not want. In search of something better, they are immigrants who leave their homeland and family. They are the men and women in service who don’t give up hope and keep writing letters.

Model heroism after all of these examples and stories to include advocates, artists, planet healers, teachers, parents, service personnel, and abused children, men, and women. Include everyone because everyone has the propensity to be a hero.