Ilwaco Railway 1889

We’re surrounded by heroes here on this remote seashore, including memories of those who built our railroad through a virtual wilderness in 1889.

I’ve been all over this place, and I just can’t find some new place to go — even in the woods, on the beach, in town and in every neighborhood. It’s all been taken up.

I’m talking about footprints, indentations in the soil. I don’t know if you can see them, but I find them everywhere.

They’re the footprints of heroes, of champions of their age. This place where I live is crawling with them.

Heroes? People who do their jobs, who rise above their station, who do all that’s asked of them and more. A woman who sends her kids off to school; some mothers don’t but the vast majority do, and they’re heroes. Men and women who march off to work, young people who go to school — they all do their jobs and they’re all heroes.

So why do we have so many? History runs deep on the Peninsula. The first Americans, the natives, the pioneers — they each had their jobs, their footprints in history, and they found success. Life before we were here was hard. Remember — no electricity, no cars, no mass communication. And the people did without. Of course, they didn’t know what they didn’t have. A thousand thousand things weren’t invented yet. But they each came through with the jobs they were given.

So thank you. Thanks to the men who harvested the trees and built the towns.

Thanks to the women who cooked the pot roasts and clothed the children and cared for the sick. Thank you, men, for flexing your muscles. Thank you, women, for having babies. Thank you, children, for your laughter and your joy. And thank you to all the animals and each of God’s creatures — thank you to the trees and all the plants and flowers for giving us such a beautiful place to live.

I say that because the Long Beach Peninsula is different. We’re not the prettiest, but we’re very pretty. We’re not the richest, but we’re rich in the people we have and the things they do. We help each other, we lift things for old people, we’re patient with young people, we’re nice to everyone in between. We try not to lay people off simply because it’s not the tourist season and there’s not enough work. We don’t fire people because they make the occasional mistake. And we remember people when they pass from this earth.

Our cemeteries are holy places. They harbor the bones of those who went before us, and so we value the things they did with their lives.

We dream and our feet leave the ground and whisk us away on the fantasies of our minds. And so today we are living the dreams of yesteryear. Imagine a settler watching a car go by. My goodness, what a head-spinning spectacle. Watching a microwave oven, a computer, an airplane. These are more than fantasies, they’re real. These are the products of heroes.

But when I speak of heroes, I mean much more than that. Heroes leave their footprints around us a thousand times a day in a million different places. Listen to them speak: I helped to build the road, he says, and so I’m a hero. I bring you your groceries, and me, I’m a hero.

I’m a nurse. I’m a medic. I’m a cop. I’m a soldier. We’re all heroes, and we’re all helping.

This year, for me, has been terrible. My health is yelling at me. It’s telling me that I’m the most mortal man I know. In the last year I’ve spent two months in the hospital. This year and in the past, I’m wondering how much more I’m entitled to. I’m not middle-aged anymore — I’m old. I don’t have any hair that isn’t gray, any skin that isn’t wrinkled. I still like looking at pretty girls, but I don’t think they like it. I have a wife — she’s the love of my life and means everything to me. I like how she cooks and tucks me in, but I probably like her just as much because she’s able to reach down and pick things up off the floor.

Don’t think of me as a hero. Whatever I’ve set out to do, I haven’t done. My legs are only long enough to touch the ground. My arms can barely reach above my head. My brain has trouble seeing through all my personal fog.

And when I die, I’m hoping with all the heroes in Heaven (and there are a lot of them), that they’ll find me a quiet place to stay.

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