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Yesterday I was driving back from the gym at 6 a.m. and found myself ahead of the local bus that goes to the nearest train station into downtown Chicago.
As I drove before the bus, I noticed a man or two standing at each bus stop along this main road, in the bitter pre-dawn chill. Each had some kind of backpack or briefcase and was bundled up warmly in scarves, hats and coats.
Knowing the local train schedule, I realized they were waiting for the bus to the closest station with an express train to downtown Chicago. And based on the demographics of my neighborhood, most were probably fathers of families.
Out into the icy dark
I thought of my own husband, who takes the express train into Chicago every day, and the countless men and women like him who get up before dawn on these winter mornings and trudge out into the icy dark to provide for their families, day after day.
I was moved to see them waiting for the bus to the train station, after dragging themselves out of bed at some ungodly hour. How much discipline does it take to brave the below-zero weather? How much love for their families lights their way to do this hard thing every morning for long months every year? And as the grateful recipient of my husband’s daily early-morning sacrifice, am I letting him know how much I appreciate it?
Quiet acts of self-sacrifice
All over the world, men and women are practicing these quiet acts of self-sacrifice, doing what they don’t want to do for the sake of those they love. They’re coming home with a smile and a playful spirit for their kids, even when they’re exhausted and carrying burdens too great for their children to understand. They’re reading that same storybook, scrubbing that same pot, playing that same game, sweeping that same floor.
The monotony of these routine tasks makes them no less heroic, when love drives these actions. In fact, the more routine and “easy” they feel to practice, the more heroic they are. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines heroic virtue as “a habit of good conduct that has become a second nature.” Even if these selfless acts are routine, when I see them, I don’t want to take them for granted.
A “lifetime’s death in love”
The best description I’ve heard of living daily heroic virtue comes in T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets,” when he speaks of practicing “a lifetime’s death in love, Ardor and selflessness and self-surrender.” I’ve often thought that this “lifetime’s death in love” is what I am called to give in my vocation as a parent and spouse, but of course it’s the calling of all those who live with love lighting their path, of whom the saints are our best examples.
All around me, if I stop to pay attention, I notice my family, friends, and neighbors making daily sacrifices, great and small, for the sake of those they love.
God, grant me the eyes to see, appreciate, and give thanks for these acts of love—and grant me the discipline to practice my own daily self-surrender, too.