Sorry, Tina Turner, but we really do need another hero. As many as we can find, in fact.
This has been a rough week for my heroes. First, losing the inimitable Robin Williams, and in such tragic circumstances, and then today comes news that the magnificent Lauren Bacall has left us. These follow hard on the deaths of Rik Mayall and Elaine Stritch.
This is a cynical age and a lot of people don’t believe in heroes any more. I think that’s sad. I think it has more to do with our definition of heroism than it does a decline in the quality of the men and women around us.
There’s a bit of dialogue in While You Were Sleeping that sticks with me. Lucy (Sandra Bullock) assures Peter (Peter Gallagher) that he is heroic. “You give up your seat every day in the train,” she tells him. Peter replies, “But that’s not heroic,” and Lucy says, “It is to the person who sits in it.”
In an age where childhood stars have become tainted by allegations of child abuse, where US presidents are expected to lie and cheat, and where sporting heroes are charged with homicide, it’s hardly surprising that we have lost faith. Yet it is now, more than ever, that we need that faith.
Let’s go back to our definition of ‘hero’:
If anyone understood heroism, it was Christopher Reeve. The Superman star became a quadriplegic following a horse-riding accident. To him, Robin Williams was a hero. Reeve’s family paid tribute to Williams, saying,
“After our father’s accident, Robin’s visit to his hospital room was the first time that Dad truly laughed. Dad later said, ‘My old friend had helped me know that somehow I was going to be okay.’ Robin and his incredible family stayed by our side for the rest of Dad’s life, and long after that as well. He and Marsha Garces joined the Board of the Reeve Foundation, and provided unending support without fanfare or question.
“Robin’s unparalleled legacy on screen will last through the ages. But beyond the gift of laughter, he gave our family and the Reeve Foundation the gift of his simple, steadfast friendship. It’s a gift we’ll treasure forever.” http://www.people.com/article/christopher-reeve-family-robin-williams-tribute
Here’s a newsflash: you don’t need a cape to be a hero. You don’t need the prefix ‘super’ and you don’t need special powers. Sometimes you just have to give of yourself, even when it hurts. Maybe especially when it hurts.
When author Joseph Heller had Guillain-Barré syndrome, a sometimes fatal condition that cause complete paralysis, he was visited in hospital by his friend, the notoriously hypochondriacal Mel Brooks. In his book about his illness and recovery, No Laughing Matter, Heller told how Brooks came to visit him wearing a gown and mask, literally shaking in terror at being in a hospital. Heroes don’t shake, you say? Sure they do. But they don’t let the shakes stop them from being there for a friend in need.
I’m lucky because I have a lot of heroes. Bacall was one. I loved her feisty nature and her no-nonsense attitude. She, like Elaine Stritch, were role models for women who didn’t want to be Marilyn Monroe or Mother Teresa. Like my other heroes, Dorothy Parker and Lillian Hellman, they were women who’d seen too many late nights, too many cigarettes, too much booze. Heroes all. Not because of their bad habits, but because they refused to yield to society’s expectations of what a woman ought to be. No easy task, when you consider the period in which they grew up.
My heroes are men and women of stature. Some are writers, some are actors or musicians, but many are people I’ve met in my life. My daughter Cara, who moved to Ireland at the age of sixteen because she trusted her mother to make the right decision for her. My friend Jane spent hours the other day getting Hamlet tickets for us. That’s heroic. Or Sherrill, who spent so long looking for a job that didn’t just pay the rent but contributes something to society. Or Chris, who dealt with being a gay man in Ireland long before it was legal with grace, humour and courage. All exception, generous, kind and, yes, heroic people. They enrich my life in countless ways. And that, my friends, is what heroes do.
But you know what’s more important than having heroes? Being one.
Whose hero are you?