I have been building a wall for nearly 30 years. It isn't a wall to keep people out — it's a wall to honor the genuine heroes and heroines who inspired, challenged and taught me to dream bigger, live bolder and share with others the principles that make the world better.
I have always loved the magic of Major League Baseball's playoffs and World Series. The cool autumn air creates the perfect "field of dreams" where new heroes can emerge. For years I collected autographed baseballs and even ran a sports memorabilia store for a time. I treasure my collection of autographs that includes legends like Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Cal Ripken Jr., Ted Williams and Nolan Ryan.
I was building quite an impressive "wall of fame" until the focus of my wall drastically changed. I was going through a storage box one day when I came across a book that had been given to me by my third-grade teacher, Mary Faulkner. A flood of memories cascaded over me as I realized the impact this unsung heroine had had on my life. Miss Faulkner had given that book to me as a gift — wrapped up nice and everything. At the time I wasn't a reader — at all — but was about to become one. Within those pages I had discovered the power of story, that words have meaning and that as long as you could read there was nowhere on the planet you couldn't explore and no idea you couldn't pursue.
I immediately searched the white pages to find her address, placed a brand-new baseball and Sharpie pen in a padded envelope and sent it to Miss Faulkner with a request that she sign the ball and become part of my wall of fame. When the signed ball came back, I put it in a case and added it to my wall. It stirred my heart and started an autographed baseball wall-building project that continues today.
My wall includes signatures on baseballs from coaches, teachers, authors, employers, mentors, colleagues, grandparents, friends and even complete strangers — each worthy of wall-of-fame status for the difference they made in my life.
We are surrounded by heroes and heroines, and I have found that celebrating them is one of the ways to make sure I am emulating them. I have tried to help my children become wall-builders as well by looking for those who impact their lives in positive ways.
Years ago, my daughter Rachel, then 5 years old, and I were sitting at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, enjoying a night together watching the San Diego Padres play the New York Mets. Rachel was not your typical 5-year-old fan. On this night Rachel was cheering the players and dancing in the aisles, helping me keep score, and even striking up a conversation with a young man sitting next to us.
As the game progressed, the section we were sitting in began to get a little too rowdy for us, so Rachel and I moved to a different section — something you can always do at a Padres game because there are always plenty of empty seats.
No sooner had we moved seats than a high foul ball soared into the section where we were previously sitting. The young man Rachel had connected with stretched out and caught the foul ball. It was the best catch of the night. The young man held up the ball and the fans cheered. He immediately ran over to our section and handed the ball to Rachel. You would have thought that she had just won the lottery!
Rachel watched as the young man returned to his seat. As he was about to sit down he turned and looked back at Rachel, who continued to hold tight to her new prize. Then Rachel blew him a great big kiss, which they showed on the stadium Jumbo-tron, and the crowd erupted in another wave of applause.
As the game continued, I realized that this was more than a foul ball. I knew that if we were to just take our ball and go home, it probably would end up in the closet. During the seventh-inning stretch I gave Rachel my pen and said, "Go ask him to sign the ball for you." Rachel marched down, handed him the ball and the pen, and asked him to sign his name on it. The young man looked over to me like I was some kind of crazy person asking for his autograph. I explained that we have a wall of fame at our house with balls signed by individuals who have had influenced our lives in meaningful ways. I told him that he might never make it to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, but his act of kindness would be remembered forever on our wall of fame.
He very carefully and quite proudly wrote, "To Rachel from Kevin Munn." I think he got as much out of the signing as Rachel did. And suddenly the ball became significant.
We live in a cynical world where we build physical and technological walls around us to keep people out. But a search for heroes and heroines reveals that we are literally surrounded by them. (Most don't wear capes.) Such heroes have emerged in the recent events in Las Vegas, Florida and Texas; but you will also find them in your neighborhood and community. If you are going to build a wall, make it a wall of fame honoring those who have made a difference for you.