Tuesday, July 27, 2010

My Hero!

Numerous times as a youngster (and a high-school student, and a college applicant, and a job candidate...), I was asked to name "my hero." I always found this task highly distasteful, because I never had a good answer.

In elementary school, my classmates seemed to usually pick their favorite athletes, musicians, or family members. I, too, eventually chose the family member route, not because I strongly idolized my relatives, but because I knew them well enough to give plausible reasons why any of them could be my hero—if I were to have one. I didn't, of course, since, as an extreme introvert from birth, I never spent much time thinking about other people.

As we got older, my peers grew more high-minded, selecting their heroes from a pool of upstanding charitable, intellectual, and courageous figures from the present and the past. Following their lead, I dabbled a bit in citing Gandhi as my hero. He was supposed to be all about peace, right? I like peace. But really, I didn't know anything about him. I'm not sure if I spelled his name right. I'm not even sure if I'm talking about Mahatma or Mohandas Gandhi. And what he actually did to promote peace? Well, that's a little hazy. All this uncertainty was making me feel like a downright fraud, so I reverted back to familial heroes.

I've realized since then, that while some people seem to easily become infatuated with public figures (Teens with their movie posters, anyone? Adults with their Obama shirts?), I rarely develop even a passing interest in people I haven't met. And thus my hero-deficiency may be neatly explained. However, it was only after I stopped being forced to write essays on this awkward subject that I realize what I would write – with confidence – should the need arise.

My heroes are not the great instigators of social change that I always felt should be my heroes. They're not scientific geniuses or founders of great religions. They're not even my favorite athletes. They are, like me, simple people with a love for words. It seems obvious now, that as a bookworm with limited social graces, I would choose literary figures as my role models. I don't have to relate to the people—I just have to relate to what they do!

Of course, now that I've realized where my true loyalties lie, I can't be content to select just one hero—and surely I'm entitled to a couple, after a lifetime of having none at all! Finally, after years of being obliged to half-heartedly endorse people who never really struck a gong in my heart, I can name my heroes with enthusiasm! So, over the next few days, I'll introduce you to a couple of the people I consider role models and kindred spirits.