“God of our life, there are days when the burdens we carry chafe our shoulders and weigh us down; when the road seems dreary and endless, the skies grey and threatening; when our lives have no music in them, and our hearts are lonely, and our souls have lost their courage. Flood the path with light, run our eyes to where the skies are full of promise; tune our hearts to brave music; give us the sense of comradeship with heroes and saints of every age; and so quicken our spirits that we may be able to encourage the souls of all who journey with us on the road of life, to Your honor and glory.” St. Augustine
I’ve been thinking about my heroes. I’m not sure why. Perhaps I heard something, or read something about heroes. Perhaps it’s the talk of the heroic acts of students, teachers and coaches at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018. Perhaps it’s just a thought that randomly popped in my head.
Actually, I’ve been pondering what my particular heroes say about me. Is there something about who they are (or were) or what they do (or did), that speaks to who I strive to be?
As an only child, I spent a lot of time, growing up, alone – as most only children do. As an introvert, I didn’t mind. That space, I think, helped me develop a lively imagination.
In third grade, I discovered comic books and super heroes, and I was enthralled. I quickly discovered a small comic book store, within a bike-ride of my house. In addition to new comics, and boxes and boxes of preserved comics in plastic bags, there was a box of old, used, worn and torn comic books, for only $.25. Just about every quarter I earned, found, or was given, was spent buying $.25 comics.
By the way, I still have most of them.
My favorites were Superman and Batman, but I loved them all. At one point, I created and drew my own super heroes. I loved their courage. I loved their super-powers. I loved their cool hideouts, vehicles, and weapons. I loved how they always saved the day, no matter how terrible the schemes of their evil foes.
Though I haven’t read a comic book in ages, I absolutely love all of the super hero movies of the past decade. In fact, while some are more critically acclaimed than others, I’ve yet to see a bad one. A “bad” super hero movie, to me, is still better than just about anything else!
While I still love the heroes of fantasy, I’ve also accumulated a growing list of real-life “super” heroes. Though most of my heroes are “known,” at least in certain circles, few are/were rich, or powerful, or successful by “worldly” standards. Though some have risen to honorable positions, and received accolades, few are/were motivated by such things.
My heroes of history include St. Francis, who abandoned wealth and comfort to serve God and the poor; Mother Teresa, who ventured into the dangerous streets of Calcutta, to serve the sick and dying; John Wesley, whose passion for God and dissatisfaction with the spiritual status-quo sparked a movement; Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker movement to serve the poor; Oscar Romero, who was martyred for standing with the poor of El Salvador; Martin Luther King, Jr., who was martyred for his fight for justice on behalf of people of color.
My living heroes include Pope Francis, as he leads the Roman Catholic Church (and all of us) from a place of humility and love for ALL people; Barack Obama, who consistently demonstrates leadership with character; Jimmy Carter, who may not be remembered as a great President, but has given his life to Christ-centered service; Bryan Stevenson, an attorney, author and activist, fighting for the lives of death-row inmates unfairly tried and sentenced. Dona Maria Tomasa, an incredible Mayan woman, and dear friend, who overcame the destruction of the Guatemalan Civil War and the brutal murder of her husband, to lead a weaving cooperative for widows, called “Ruth and Naomi,” that now sells hand-made products internationally; my Bishop, Kenneth Carter, who leads from a place of consistent, grounded, Christ-centered hopefulness; and many, many, many of my former students from the Florida State University Wesley Foundation, who are now leading and serving to make the world a better place.
As I reflect on my heroes, I see themes emerge: leadership, humility, dissatisfaction with the status quo, authenticity, fearlessness in the face of opposition, service and sacrifice, courage, commitment to change, depth of character, belief that a better world is possible, perseverance, overcoming hardship and resistance, and a deep passion for God.
As much as I love the “super” heroes of my childhood fantasies, I’ll never possess a superpower. But, as I look at my list of real-life heroes, I see much I can strive to imitate.
I wonder if that’s why certain people become our heroes? Perhaps they represent who we wish we could be. Or, perhaps, they represent, to some degree, who we can be.
Who are your heroes?