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A Time of Heroes

Horses Racing

The world seems short of heroes. We find flaws everywhere. We diminish. We deconstruct. We contextualize. But why?

Heroes can inspire our better selves. The "great" lies close to the heart of every person. Who among us has not watched a particular movie and has thought (for just a moment), "I wish I could have such a moment as this."

What prompted this essay? We watched the unbelievable story of American hockey players winning over the Russians in the Olympics a few weeks ago. The movie was "Miracle." I highly recommend it.

Then tonight, we watched Secretariat, winning by 32 horse lengths to complete the Triple Crown. And it was magnificent to watch such greatness on display. A heart to run, and a jockey and owner that would let this horse do that.

Such examples rouse our contentment with the ordinary. We may never attain such heights but are moved by such extraordinary greatness. We long for such an uplift in our lives. And our souls long for it.

In a way, such examples answer such a call, those stirrings within us. Like coals, heroes fire them into flame, even for brief moments. They flicker, a reminder they are not quenched.

Imagine if there was no one, nothing in the world, no painting,

no verse, no event, that could do this for us? If everything

was muted grey? If heroic behaviors decided to walk away?

Heroes make us reach into our higher selves. We know individuals have feet of clay; no one disputes this. But still, what makes them even more remarkable is that they were able (even briefly) to transcend limitations to conquer the heights.

Qualities such as nobility and endurance, bravery and virtue, honest character, and self-sacrifice shine brightly for moments. Then, in time, like comets, there and then gone.

Alone against the currents, firm in their convictions,

graced with courage and heart, these qualities

also reverberate in us.

We become taller as people, even in a distant association with such people or moments.

Opening ourselves to heroes and a hero's journey can also reveal our poverty of spirit and soul. It is also a good thing. This exposure is not comfortable.

In our society, we are reluctant to look inward to anything that might make us feel insufficient. But the result diminishes us. It can deceive us. Heroism, in another, is a prodding. It is leaven. It is a whisper from another world.

Heroism should not die, or what becomes of a society? Where will we find our resilience when moments test us? What will be our North Star in moments of peril? Whose compass will we follow into uncertainty?

Realism has its place. But must we always teach our children that true heroes are overly complex, wrought by storms of personality complexes, tainted by sad and questionable behaviors?

What models do our children have of people who overcome their weaknesses, who can struggle amid their infirmities and yet still achieve greatness?

Would Rembrandt's paintings be any less if the person was defective? The apostle Paul admitted he was the worst of sinners. Is he the better for acknowledging this?

I had a book as a child. It was about Ben Franklin. A study might reveal many corruptions in his life, many failings. Do I need to know this any more than I would want my better moments to be measured within the forge of drawing evil from good?

That book inspired me with his inventiveness and incredible

ability to draw electricity from lightning on the string of a kite.

Benjamin Franklin was a silent, secret inspiration for me. It whispered in the quieter moments. It thrilled me for a time and, to a degree, walked in my dreams.

I drew from the well of his persistence and

from his flight of unguarded imagination.

For moments, on rare occasions, the light of inspiration elevates everything. We bathe in it. It is present, is it not, in those final moments of "Miracle"? Doesn't the heart stir as we watch Secretariat blow the competition away?

When it shows itself, we must treasure it because it so seldom drops to earth to visit us. Can any other species experience heroic actions in quite the way we do?

We can deploy all the cynicism we want to discount and reduce it to any common variation of slush on a sidewalk. But oh, the intricacies of the snowflake falling from the heavens overhead!

Dan Sanchez, in his excellent article, "How To Make Superman Relevant," writes these words:

"A core part of the human spirit will always be

drawn to, and be able to learn from,

stories that inspire us to become

better versions of ourselves."

And he adds this defiant statement any one of us should come to know:

"And this inner core is

impervious to deconstruction

as Superman is to bullets."

Think about that for a while. Our world is our choice. Are any heroes left? Anybody you know whose measure doesn't start or end with feet of clay? Is there any ennobling act out there that is a spring of inspiration to draw from?

Beautiful Horse Facing the Reader

John A Bragstad is the author of Compass Season, Who's Watching Whoo? and Loon Laughter at Midnight. All are available at or local GM bookstores.


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