Carrying my hero’s purse with honor | Our Corner

The following is written by Covington reporter Eric Mandel:

My hero made an Ebola presentation in front of a group of military veterans the other evening. I sat in the crowd and watched in awe at her poise and expertise. She continually surprises and amazes me. One of the attendees seemed to read my mind, also calling her “a hero.” I couldn’t agree more.

After an hour or so of Q&A, I watched wordlessly as the vets gave my hero praise and I carried her purse and the “Certificate of Thanks” to our car.It occurred to me that I’m among the doting husband-to-be’s in today’s America. And that I couldn’t be prouder of that fact.

I’m not exactly Eric the Riveter, as I’ve never been one who felt the need to prove my manhood, in large part because I so often fail in the old fashion principles — being the breadwinner (Ha, I’m a journalist), the smart one (see first parenthetical) or the athletic one (she finished a Ragnar race; I can finish a Digiorno by myself). Sometimes she kills the spiders.

But I have some positive attributes – I can reach the crock pot from the top cupboard in the kitchen, I wear the backpack during hikes, I drive on all our road trips and I am always there to support her in her career choices and talk her through the difficult decisions.

Maybe it’s weird to compliment myself for things like this, but I’d like to think I’m playing the supporting role many important people — often women — have played for centuries.

I deal with her travel schedule and she copes with my midnight story inspirations. It’s a give and take. It’s what marriage in the 21st century is all about. And for us, it’s really never felt that difficult, even when the situations have been hard.

My hero is a member of the Centers for Disease Control and is active duty with United States Public Health Service. She’s spent time in Sierra Leone assisting with the Ebola epidemic.

My writing career has generally been held on the sidelines — working at small-to-midsize newspapers that cover community events and happenings, profiling individuals on a fairly modest scale — while my hero has been handling the big picture, for everybody. She’s undertaken a mission for public health and panic diffusion; armed with a bottle of chlorine mix, muck boots and Excel spreadsheets. She’s the angel of contact investigation.While she’s been providing proficiency for a world health problem, I’m sitting at home, working my way to Carpal tunnel.

I’ve lived by proxy through my hero’s experiences, which have helped shift my personal and professional perspective. Because, the truth is, I haven’t always truly appreciated the military. In fact, through the years, I tended to roll my eyes at the hero worship over enlistees to military service.I’d talked to too many people who signed up for the armed forces because it was an easy choice, or his or her only way out. The military members I know generally don’t see themselves as saving the world and tend toward embarrassment at the notion — feeling like a fraud when they’re saluted for being stationed in the middle of nowhere USA, biding time with chewing tobacco and cigarettes.

As a prospective military spouse, I’ve also felt guilty about utilizing any of the benefits associated with the service – going to the USO at airports, free health care and certain discounts. What have I done to deserve any of these things?

Perhaps through karma, my world, and all of those thoughts, changed in August when my hero left for Africa.

Somehow, though I never left the U.S., it was one of the most mentally challenging three weeks of my life. I feared doing anything enjoyable — laughing, smiling — concerned that the moment I lost focus on my hero I’d receive a terrifying call. Luckily, I only suffered one of those: A false alarm.

It seems that, somewhat selfishly, beyond my renewed appreciation for military service, I have learned to empathize my new fellow sideline dwellers — the parents and family members of military personnel who sit at home waiting for bad news. No matter the assignment, armed or unarmed, there’s always an extra risk for those in duty and a feeling of helplessness for those who wait back at the ranch.

After 12-plus hours a day, without weekends, witnessing death and incomprehensible anguish, it’s remarkable that the current slew of health care workers volunteer at all, let alone volunteer multiple times.

These people have obvious dedication to public health and ethics — meaning you’d better have a damn good reason and some plush accommodations to institute a 21-day mandatory quarantine for those other heroes who aren’t showing any symptoms.

Thus, when my hero returned, I gladly re-grabbed the reigns I’m most comfortable with.

While driving us home from the Ebola presentation, I noticed the car rolling oddly. I found the tire had somehow deflated while we’d been parked.So, while my hero watched in her military uniform, I sat in the rain and a puddle, jacking up the car and replacing the flat.

What a man, right? Admittedly, I felt quite good for taking care of my loved one during a time of need.

In fact, replacing the tire only took about an hour and I only had to ask one stranger for help.

My hero was so proud.