COLUMBUS, Ohio — You may not know Dave McConnell of Columbus, Ohio. But odds are, you know someone just like him. You might call them friends.
I call them life heroes.
McConnell hasn't overcome disease, saved someone from a burning barn or given millions to charity.
He's just a suburban dad living in a nice Columbus neighborhood with his lovely wife, Alisha, and two happy, healthy children.
So why is he one of my heroes? Because like few people I’ve ever known, McConnell has found balance between providing for his family and pursuing his creative dreams.
I recognized McConnell was a creative thinker when I first met him in July of 1989. We’d both graduated from high school weeks before and crossed paths on a low-budget movie set in Sandy, Utah. McConnell had an agent, raw talent, a Hollywood jaw and dreams of L.A. stardom.
One year later we both served missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Brazil. We served honorably and though we've been home two decades, a piece of us remains with the country and people we grew to love.
Upon his return, McConnell attended school and reignited his dreams of bright lights and of making a creative difference in the world. He didn’t know exactly where life would take him, but heaven made it clear he had stories to tell on the trip there.
Sadly, my dear friend and I drifted apart through the years. I saw him in a commercial or two and recognized him immediately in the 2002 television movie, “The Pennsylvania Miners' Story."
Finally, a few years ago, we each reconnected with another long-lost mutual friend who passed along our contact information. I soon found myself in Columbus, Ohio, spending the day with the McConnell family.
It was a joy to catch up. I learned that McConnell works in pharmaceutical sales and provides well for his family. But it's miles away from the dreams of his teens and 20s when he imagined being a full-time actor, writer and director.
I also learned that my talented friend has a talent agent and that he’s booked many commercials and a few parts in films and television series that have passed through Ohio. He’s shared a set with the likes of Ryan Gosling and George Clooney.
He's currently starring in a series of regional Wal-Mart ads. He’s the man who walks with real customers through the store to show the savings between Wal-Mart and one of their local competitors.
No, it's not some soundstage on some lot at some Hollywood studio, but it’s a creative outlet and a regular gig that he loves.
McConnell has also just finished his first novel. “Dark Soul” is an 80,000-word look at life and death and heaven and hell. It challenges readers to shake their perceptions of what awaits on the other side. It’s earning raves from early readers and is being shopped to publishers and agents.
So what makes him a "life hero?"
McConnell and other fathers and mothers like him are heroes for their willingness to balance their dreams and the artistic passions of their souls to fulfill their greater responsibility — to provide safety and security for their families.
My good friend would give almost anything to quit his job, remodel his home office and write a New York Times best-seller or Oscar-winning screenplay. His veins run hot with creative blood that aches to tell stories on paper, stage or film.
He would do almost anything for the opportunity, but he accepts that his priorities cannot be compromised.
Our society glorifies those who sacrifice all to pursue their dreams, who never quit, who suffer to achieve greatness. But what about those who put dreams in their proper place?
Hopefully the day will come when he can say goodbye to his nine-to-five job and write or act full time. Perhaps he’ll relocate from the Midwest to California or New York and support his family on his creative talents.
But what if that never happens? What if his dreams remain on the periphery, like extras in his life’s movie? They’ll be seen, have their role, but never dominate the screen.
What if he is only remembered as a man who worked hard every single day in corporate America and took whatever time he could squeeze from life to pursue his other passions?
What if he’s remembered as nothing but a husband and father who kept his promises, loved God and loved his family, and served both with all his heart? Then he would leave this life a very satisfied man.
You probably know someone just like this. Maybe they stare back at you in the mirror every morning. You might wake up in the early hours to work on that manuscript or screenplay. You sing in the shower or in the garage with your band with the hope and prayer that one day your passions will become a profession.
You accept that your dreams won’t come true without true effort, but that dreams are not an excuse to shirk responsibilities of living in a modern world. It's what makes you admirable. It's what makes you honorable.
It's what makes you a "life hero."
And it's time we honor you, too.
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters," and "The 96th Annual Apple Valley Barn Dance." He can be reached at email@example.com or jasonfwright.com.
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