A couple of weeks ago, I had an conversation with a friend of mine about what makes someone a hero. I think that I just figured out exactly what my friend meant...
I have a friend, for the sake of this post let's call him Denis. This is going to sound horribly selfish, but most of the time I try not to think too much about Denis. The reason is that Denis is dying. He's a dying a slow agonizing death and there's nothing I or modern science can do about it.
10 years ago Denis was part biker, part musician, part government employee. Just a normal all around guy and just like everyone else who worked in his particular line of work, he ended up having some back pain. He went to see a doctor who put him off work for a few week to give his back a rest.
3 years later still unable to return to work he visits, very literally, an 8th doctor who finally tells him that his entire spine and the base of his skull is covered in metastatic tumors and that he is going to die, that he only has a few months left to live, to go home and get his affairs in order.
That was about 2 years ago.
Now Denis is still sick, the cancer now being generalized he is looking worse and he is still dying. But Denis hasn't stopped living. In fact he has put himself in an extremely painful experimental drug treatment, not in the hopes of curing himself but in the hopes of helping others in the future. Between treatments he has also starting organizing bi-weekly concerts in centers for troubled teenagers and giving free guitar lessons to these kids.
When I sit down and ask him what his greatest fear is he answers: "Who is going to look after my dog when I die..." There isn't an once of selfishness left in this guy, the physical pain doesn't seem to bother him, the prospect of death only scares him when he wonders what will happen to his best friend and companion after he's gone.
Denis is really and truly, for me and for all those fortunate enough to know him, a hero, in almost every sense of the word. I'm going to miss you man.