Friday, October 09, 2009

My Dad’s a Superhero!

My son Ezra thinks I’m pretty cool. Actually he thinks I’m about the coolest person in the word, and strong too! He’s at that age where I’ve overheard him telling other boys about how I’m the strongest man in the world and how I can run faster than their dads. And this isn’t just hype to him. He actually believes it… and I let him though I get nervous when he’s talking smack to a kid whose dad was obviously a lineman for a college football team (I’m in big trouble if any other dads want to get into some kinds of test of manhood with me).

This mythology of his dad was confirmed convincingly a few months ago we stopped in at gas station in Mississippi for the typical round of snacks, bathroom breaks and gas about an hour away from the place we frequently go camping. As we walked out of the gas station I heard a woman yell something about a truck that was rolling out of it’s parking place. I immediately ran over behind the truck and was able to stop its momentum without too much effort by using what Ezra believed as superhuman strength. However it wasn’t a big truck, probably a Nissan or Mazda that the guy forgot to engage the parking break on, but to Ezra it confirmed everything he believed about me—“My dad’s a superhero!” In his mind he was actually thinking that I could pick that truck up and toss it across the parking lot but that I was just holding back a bit so as not to let folks in on who I really am. When I got back in the car he was pretty stoked at his super hero of a father. I let him believe it because, well, it’s pretty cool to have one person in the world think that you are superhuman even if it’s not true.

Back in May I attended the National Vineyard Leadership Conference. The theme of the conference was Heroic Leadership (no doubt inspired by the book by Chris Lowney with that title). This meant that every speaker over the course of the conference made an attempt at weaving the theme into each of their respective talks. While none of the speakers had a hard time talking about leadership the subject of heroism seemed a bit difficult. One reason that I think heroism is a strange thing to talk about is because the very folks that want to be heroes tend to disqualify themselves just by the fact of wanting to be a hero (there’s nothing heroic about trying to be a hero, nothing cool about trying to be cool either). I think that most folks think of heroism as a manifestation of something in the core of one’s being that tends to arise when it is needed.

At the conference I was reminded of a song I wrote a few years back called Reluctant Hero:

Reluctant Hero
He just wanted a simple life
But destiny drew him into the fight,
He wasn’t looking for a name or chasing fame
Just contentment in the smallest things

In his heart he held his dreams
A woman to love and a family
Sweat and blood
Just to find a home
Some piece of ground he could call his own

But when darkness falls
And tragedy comes near
When the soul it breaks under the weight of fear
When there’s nowhere to hide
Something rises from the inside

This ain’t what you had in mind
You’ll fight the dark until the sun shines
This is how the story goes
Live or die reluctant hero

There you are
I see you under attack
This fight has changed you
You can never go back
Something inside has been released
You can’t stop ‘til you set it free

For when darkness falls
And tragedy comes near
When the soul it breaks under the weight of fear
When there’s nowhere to hide
Something rises from the inside

This ain’t what you had in mind
To fight the dark until the sun shines
This is how the story goes
Live or die reluctant hero

I remember writing that song as I was pondering the heroes from real life and movies. A key trait that stood out to me about heroes, whether in real life, or in film was how none of them really wanted to be heroes. If anything the heroes were just trying to live ordinary lives whether Frodo, William Wallace, or modern day heroes such as those that rescued people during Katrina or who responded courageously by running into the World Trade Centers on the September eleventh attacks to save whoever they could.

The truth is that we don’t have super heroes in our modern world but we do have plenty of everyday heroes. I think a hero is simply someone who cares enough to do something. A hero is someone who just can’t sit by because his heart won’t let him.

I have written a good many songs in my life. I wrote some songs because I was inspired and some for the sake of the art. But occasionally I write songs because I find myself frustrated with the songs out there, that there is not a song that says what I am feeling. I feel compelled to write a song because the world needs a song that says something different and so something in me just rises to the occasion. I know this is nothing heroic but to me it is something of what heroism is like. A hero is not looking to be a hero but rises to the occasion because he or she can’t help it. It’s not premeditated or even a goal. It’s as if a certain threshold within is crossed and the person cannot just sit passively by hoping that things will get better, that someone out there will do something. Action is called for and the heart of the hero responds not because he wants to but because to not respond would be the worse form of cowardice that no person could live with.

Truth is most of us insulate ourselves from the very things that would prod us to action that would compel us towards the heroic. We turn the channel. We look the other way. We look for some kind of distraction, and hope that someone else will do something because action is messy, because caring can really hurt, and we have all been burned before when we’ve loved or cared or done something selfless. We don’t want to get involved because we don’t really think that we have much to offer. But sometimes in spite all of our efforts to ignore what’s going on around us or to minimize what we could actually do in response, we can’t and we have to do something—damn the consequences! In these moments whether epic or obscure we step into the heroic, not because we have any desire to be heroes but because we just can’t keep still or silent anymore.

My son thinks I’m a hero, but I know the truth. Most of the time I’m a pretty selfish guy who wants to take the easy way out of things, who wants people to like me, who doesn’t particularly like rocking the boat, who would just assume live a comfortable and quiet life watching movies about heroes rather than actually getting up and doing something that might make a difference. While I like being a hero to my son, I don’t really much care for what it takes to be heroic in reality. As long as we keep ourselves distracted, as long as we don’t really let ourselves feel the pain of the world around us, as long as we are insulated from reality and isolated from others we need not worry about stepping into the heroic for that threshold within will never be crossed.

1 comment:

Pi Man said...

Oh, I don’t know. Anyone who can tune their guitar in the middle of a song like you did last weekend, and keep on singing and going seems like they possess heroic-like qualities to me! 8^) One thing your wrote that hit home for me was in the last couple paragraphs, where you talked about how we sometimes insulate ourselves from doing what we perceive as heroic (or just “necessary” without necessarily being “heroic” for that matter) as a way of avoiding the pain that often comes from taking a stand or getting involved. Bingo! I see the man in the mirror in that for sure. Certainly I know that one can only take the pain for so long before stepping away for a bit to prayerfully consider what the heck is going on. I’m the kind of guy who likes resolution to problems. I don’t like loose ends and reoccurring problems. You know, let’s get this fixed sooner (which usually meant “now” and no matter what) rather than later. So at times, frustrated and probably selfishly, I’m sure I got ahead of God’s timing, which is of course what matters. Timing. Can waiting be heroic? I think it can, as long as it doesn’t always become our choice simply because it’s the path of least resistance. I suppose that discernment comes in here as well, i.e., to know when it’s time to act or time to wait. May we be graced with the blessing of knowing the difference. Good stuff Bro, and nice song lyrics, too.