Homeless. Alcoholic. Drug addict. Aboriginal. Dirty. Loser.
I could have passed by him and not even noticed he was there. I probably did. Thousands of people did. And, of those who did notice him, few or none would have seen his humanity, just his categorization under any one of a number of labels.
His name was Faron Hall.
We all have names. Names that identify us. Names that mark us. Names that differentiate us from the other seven billion people on this planet. And connected to our names are stories of heroics and villainy. For all of us.
I stood in front of a group of grade 11 students talking about writing personal stories and, knowing they had read at least the start of my book, asked, “What did you think of it?”
The standard answers were given. “You are optimistic.” “You are courageous.” “You are not worried about life.”
And then the one that struck me. “You give your heroes names.”
I had never recognized that before. This happens more often than you might think: that someone points out something about my book that I myself have never noticed, often never intended, at least consciously. From time to time, I too discover a new aspect of my book, such as when it revealed the importance of community to me.
I paused. And replied, “Tell me more about what you saw.”
“Well, your heroes have names and the other people do not.”
My heroes have names. In the preface to What I Learned from Cancer, I wrote:
It is perhaps the fact that, in the end, I spent my time writing a book just so I could name my heroes. The people who changed my story, the people who formed my story, the people without whom my story would have been radically different than it was.
His name was Joe Pfeifer. His name was Cliff Yaffe. His name was Rob James. Her name was Debra Maione. And these are but a few of the people in my story who deserve to have their names named. For I could not pass any of them without speaking their names aloud.
His latest book, What I Learned from Cancer, is available in paper and electronic form at http://dennismaione.com/store