A few days ago the DP Challenge was to write about your hero when you were five years old. It seems a really young age to have a hero other than your parents, grandparents, siblings, your dog or even Superman. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my hero at five years old had shaped my entire life – and had saved a little girl from feeling different and alone.
When I was five-almost-six years old, I spent about three months in the hospital with rheumatic fever. I had a fever of 105 degrees, my hair got really thin and I wasn’t allowed to move around a lot because everyone was afraid of what it would do to my heart. My mother’s brother had died at the age of 14 due to complications from rheumatic fever and I can only imagine the fear my mother felt as she watched me sleeping fitfully with a high fever and nurses hovering over me day and night.
When my fever finally broke, I was kept in the hospital for an extra-long time to make sure that I did not develop an infection in my heart. It was a good thing that my mother worked for the local doctor who owned the hospital – so we wouldn’t be bankrupted by the bill. But what does a mother of a previously active five-year-old do to keep that child occupied during those long days and nights in the hospital? There wasn’t really television to speak of (three channels which came on at 6 a.m. and went off at midnight – full of soap operas and game shows) – and the nurses couldn’t play cards with me all of the time — there were other patients in the place!
My mother’s solution? Letting me read whatever I my heart desired. I was one of those children who had already learned to read by the time I was five – and now that I was almost six – I was reading “chapter” books on every subject I could find! My mother and the hospital staff were scrambling to keep me supplied in books. It is surprising how many books a child can read when there is nothing else to do! In fact, our parish priest even brought me some children’s books about the saints when he came to check on me each day. Every day I would have a different saint to keep my mind occupied – what a great gift!
And the saints I read about not only took my mind off my infirmities, but also taught me about strength, courage, endurance, commitment and most importantly – God’s love. I fell in love with St. Therese of Lisieux or the Little Flower. She had survived so much tragedy in her young life and almost died when she was 11 – just like me! She loved God and her family so much and even had a vision of the Virgin Mary. And although she was very young, she had a will of steel and didn’t rest until she could do what she knew she had to do for God.
There was also St. Joan of Arc – what little Catholic girl of the 60’s didn’t love this heroic, forceful, brave young woman! Although she was never the poster child for feminism, she should have been! She was brave, resourceful, courageous – and did everything man could do! She was strong-willed, honest and died for her beliefs – definitely a heroic figure for a young girl.
But my heart fell to another saint, St. Bernadette. A saint, who like me, was very sick when she was young and not allowed to do a lot of things. A saint, who stood by her beliefs even when others ridiculed her. A saint who, even in the face of others in authority telling her she was stupid and a liar – was able to stand firm and tell her story. I think even at my young age of five-almost-six, I knew that I wanted to be like this person – to strive to help others, be true to myself and be a part of God’s plan. I took her name upon my confirmation to remind me of her sacrifices, of her ability to overlook her own personal pain, to pray for others and mostly of her humility.
So – my hero when I was five-almost-six years old, is still my hero today – St. Bernadette. She has helped me see the world as a place where anything can be overcome, where miracles do occur – and where a small frail child can make a difference in anyone’s life.