A friend told me, "I feel as if I'm invisible. There are so many family pictures of my older sister as a child and so few of me. People call me by her name. It's as if nobody knows who I am!"
She's not alone in feeling this way. Over the years, I've encountered many people who feel overshadowed by a family member--parent, sibling, or well-known relative. Second and later-born children seldom get as much notice as the first-born, simply because their parents' time and attention is now divided. Anyone who has a sibling who is a star athlete or gifted student--or parents who are highly successful--has a tough act to follow. The thing to remember is that you don't have to follow in anybody's footsteps. Unfortunately, we live in an age when celebrity is worshipped, and many people will do anything for attention, often making others feel left out or ignored. But getting attention from others doesn't make you great; greatness comes from within.
In January of 1982, a plane carrying 79 people plunged into the Potomac River in Washington, D. C. and crashed into the 14th Street Bridge. The impact killed 73 of the people on board, and six survivors ended up in the icy water. A police helicopter lowered two lifelines, and one man, Arland Williams, who was partially trapped in the wreckage, repeatedly caught one line and passed it to others until he was the only one left in the water. But before he could be rescued, the wreckage shifted, pulling him under the water to his death.
Afterward, reporters interviewed several people who had known Williams to find out more about this remarkable man. Interestingly, they all said pretty much the same thing: "He was just an average Joe." No one saw the greatness in him, but Arland Williams didn't suddenly develop a heroic character in the last moments of his life; it was already there, even if no one saw it before.
Few of us will have the opportunity to save a person's life, but we all can build that kind of character by practicing small acts of kindness, generosity, forgiveness and selflessness. That's how we become heroes, and a hero is a hero even if no one notices.
Stephanie Kay Bendel is the author of EXIT THE LABYRINTH: A Memoir of Early Childhood Depression – Its Onset and Aftermath, MAKING CRIME PAY: A Practical Guide to Mystery Writing, and A SCREAM AWAY, a romantic thriller published under the house name, Andrea Harris. She has also written numerous short stories and articles on writing.