“Everybody needs heroes to look up to.” I heard this again recently and my first reaction was that my heroes always seemed to fail to live up to my expectations, which is to say that sooner or later I became disappointed by, at least some of, their actions.
I suppose my very first hero was John Wayne, a man my father grew up with and called friend. I still recall that when I saw the “Sands of Iwo Jima” when I was three years old I was so taken in that I wanted to become a Marine. Fortunately, I quickly grew out that phase of my life, and I can’t really say that the Duke ever fell completely out of grace in my eyes.
My next hero arrived when I was five years old in the guise of a Presidential candidate from Massachusetts named John Fitzgerald Kennedy. In fact, he seemed to be everybody’s hero in the eyes of the young boy I was. When he was shot and killed on Friday, November 22, 1963 I was in the fourth grade at William Green Elementary School. When the school principle came on the intercom system with the announcement that the president had been killed in Dallas, my teacher, Mrs. Kopek, and nearly every student cried. The principal continued to say that the school would be closed and all students were to be sent home (not something that would be done today with all the two, or more, job families there are now). When we all left the classroom I could see all the other adults and school children were crying to. It was the most unusual walk home that day. I kept my admiration for the man until people started telling me what went on in the rooms at the Cockatoo Inn, a hotel and restaurant down the street from where I grew up.
I think perhaps my last hero was Sandy Koufax. I religiously listened to every game I could on Dodger Radio with Vin Scully doing the play by plays. I cut the stats from every paper and pasted them in a scrapbook. I had a ball he signed as well as an autographed team ball (where they are now only Heaven knows). I never felt like Sandy Koufax let me down but when he announced his retirement from baseball on Friday, November 18, 1966 (What is it about Fridays in November?) I lost all interest in listening to broadcast, or watching televised, baseball games although I continued to play on in to adulthood as a Second Baseman and part time Catcher in a Fast Pitch Softball League.
Some where along the way I learned not to heroize other human beings because of just that, they are only mortal, fallible, human beings. However, that is not to say I haven’t admired a number of my fellow travelers on this (Hamlet’s) Mortal Coil. Over the years my admiration went to people like; Eleanor Roosevelt, MLK, Bobby Kennedy, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Edward Said, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, and the anthropologists Richard Leakey, Margaret Mead, Jane Goodall, and Dian Fossey. This is, of course, an abbreviated list because there are dozens of others who have my respect and admiration.
I’m not sure that “everybody needs heroes to look up to,” but I kind of think more people need to behave like they were someone’s hero.