As we go through life, we come face to face with many heroes.
As a little girl, my dad was my hero. He could fix anything from a TV to a car. He taught me to ride a bike and drive a car, and he could cook, which was pretty rare for a dad in those days.
I've had lots of other heroes over the years, including people I have written about, and of course, our local firefighters. I am always in awe of their dedication.
But I have a new hero in my life now my 19-year-old grandson Kyle.
He is the son of our oldest daughter, Karen, who for much of Kyle's upbringing, was a single mom. She worked hard sometimes several jobs at a time but still did a great job raising him. He grew up to be loving, responsible and respectful.
I guess that's why it shouldn't have come as a surprise when he joined the National Guard after graduating from high school. He wanted to become a combat medic.
As his ex-hippie, peace-loving grandmother, I wasn't thrilled. I was proud, but worried wouldn't a combat medic be deployed to dangerous areas?
Kyle took his training in Oklahoma. He would have to serve four years, and it wasn't likely he would see active duty for at least two years.
After basic training and medic training, he returned home, looked for a job and made plans to start college.
But now Kyle had skills that were needed, and he knew he had another decision to make.
Late last year, instead of heading off to college a semester late, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. In April, he left for Fort Hood, and within the week he received orders that he would be deployed in July to Afghanistan.
Our daughter called us to break the news. I cried for a long time after we hung up.
I kept thinking 'Why would he enlist, why would he deliberately put himself in harm's way?' I just didn't get it.
Time flew, and before we knew it, he was on his way to the other side of the world.
I came home from work one afternoon in July, and my husband met me at the car with the phone, complaining that he didn't know what the person on the phone was talking about.
"Here, you deal with this," he said handing me the phone.
"Hi Grandma!" It was Kyle. He had a stopover in Maryland, and would soon fly to Germany, then on to Afghanistan.
It was good talking to him and although he sounded a little nervous, he was upbeat and excited.
We told him how happy we were to speak to him and how proud we were.
Again, I cried after we said goodbye.
I still had a hard time understanding why he was voluntarily putting his life in danger.
Last week, after returning from vacation, I listened to the messages on our answering machine, including some old ones that I have saved. The first two are from my 3 1/2-year-old granddaughter, that are just too cute to erase. The third one surprised me it was from Kyle, left earlier on the day he was heading overseas. This was the first time I heard it, even though it was over two months old.
"Hi Grandma and Grandpa! I just wanted to talk to you and tell you I love you before I left. I'll try calling you again before we leave."
I listened to it a couple times, with tears in my eyes, but this time I didn't cry.
I realize I finally understand. Kyle didn't have to enlist in the military. He didn't have to go to Afghanistan and he certainly didn't have to become a combat medic.
He didn't have to do any of that. He WANTED to do that. He WANTED to go where he was needed. He WANTED to defend his country, its people, its freedoms.
I finally get it.
And that's why he is my hero.