Bravery can be a tricky thing. Often when we’re told tales of bravery, it’s through the adventures of soldiers, police, firemen, etc. People who throw themselves into the fire, straight into dangers for the sake of others. And it’s true, they are brave beyond measure. But it can be easy to get lost in the stories, and forget that bravery isn’t so one dimensional.

In my job, volunteering for the Emergency Department, I see and work with a wide variety of people. Nurses, predominantly, but also policemen, doctors, security guards, social workers, techs, and the list only goes on. Each and every one of them a vital part of the machine that is the hospital. Each and every day I am awe struck by the work they do, left wondering every time how they manage it. But this story isn’t about them. This story is about a parking valet.

I was taking a quick breather outside after the evening influx of patients. In the back of my head I was still running through all the errands I had to run when I went back in, but for the most part I let my mind wander. My relaxed state didn’t last long however, as my ears were soon struck by a head splitting shriek. A car had just entered the parking lot, and a couple had their heads buried through the side window dealing with whatever was screaming. As it turns out, the screaming was coming from a child who was suffering separation anxiety, rather than a patient suffering extreme pain. While I was relatively relieved, the noise had still set my heart racing. I guess it was visible on my face, because a man had walked up to me and was asking me if I was ok. I didn’t answer him at first, because my mind was still trying to process who he was. He was wearing a parking valet uniform so I knew he worked there, but I had never actually met him before. I told him I was and proceeded to awkwardly stand there not knowing what else say. Thankfully he took the initiative from me and started talking about kids, eventually asking if I wanted any of my own.

“Yeah a daughter would be nice actually…maybe someday down the road.”

“Hmm. Yeah daughters can be tough. But they’re more fun because they stick around a little longer. Sons get up and leave really quickly.”

“You have any kids?”

The moment I asked that question, his tan weathered face fell. I could tell he was doing his best to keep a straight face, but the furrow in his brow gave away that I had touched on a sensitive topic. Nevertheless, he spoke kindly and proceeded to tell me his story.

“Yeah I had a son once. Ten years ago he was murdered at the age of 22. I don’t know what was going on I think he owed them some money or something, but he was gunned down from a moving vehicle. I came as soon as I heard, but the police wouldn’t let me in because it was a crime scene. I could contaminate it y’know. They told me to stay back and let them take care of it. But even when from where I was standing I could see the body. They had put a yellow tarp over him. And I know they only put those things on for one reason. He was right there, and I couldn’t say goodbye. They caught all the guys eventually. And as I was standing there in court I wanted to kill them. But I knew that that would only put more bodies in the ground. It wouldn’t bring my son back.”

I was stunned. Because what do you say to that? I didn’t know. So I said what I could.

“I’m so sorry to hear that. Where was it?”

“Right here in this parking lot.”

We hear tales of bravery, and we think of tales of action. Tales of men and women putting their lives on the line to save the world. And being surrounded by doctors, surgeons, cops and nurses, I see men and women putting their lives on the line to save the world, every day. However, it’s surprising how easy it is to forget that not all victories are about saving the world. There standing in front of me, wearing not a stethoscope, or a badge, or a thousand dollar suit, but a valets uniform, was one of the bravest men I have ever had the honor of meeting. A man who had been to hell and back, who had fought back his most animal of urges, and had gotten right back up to support the rest of his family. I have to say it was humbling. I can go to medical school, and become a doctor. Something I know however, is that if I do, I run the risk that one day I will have to walk into work and deal with sickness and depravity. I may see things that will tear my soul apart. And if I do, I can only hope that I have men like him to remind me what it means to be brave.