all of the selves we Have ever been
We’ve been robbed, and I am in a mood.
I can’t shake my sorrow, and election season is making it worse.
Maybe you feel it too?
While we were pre-occupied with tweets, posts, trolls, and conspiracy theories, the vault was being emptied. It was not the work of gangsters. No Al Capone. The heist was made through billions of keystrokes. The jewels are gone. There are no more national heroes.
And who can we blame? The clever thieves made accomplices of us all.
The larceny has been in progress for many years, coming to light only recently when cancer took the last of our champions.
The day John Lewis died I was stabbed by a profound sense of loss. I sat glued to the TV screen the way my parents did the morning John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, or on the evening Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down in Memphis, the way my colleagues and I did the day the Challenger exploded over Cape Canaveral.
My grief was most certainly about the loss of a single great man. But it continues for the cultural loss of greatness. I see no galloping horse on the horizon. Even during a pandemic and economic collapse, no voice emerges. Among the unrelenting throngs of protesters, no leader stands out.
I also grieve for children who grow up without any heroes, without people who embody our collective conscience and our dreams. Where do children look for examples of principle? Where do they find
daring people who inspire others to noble action through great vision, thoughtful words, and profound ideals? What does it mean to grow up with no one to believe in?
Over the years, biographies have given way to pathographies. We seek the salacious details of the lives we inspect and then crucify the subjects when we find the evidence. Traditional and social media are both quick to spread the word. There is no longer a clear distinction between legitimate news and gossip. Each outlet strives for the sensationalism that will increase shares, followers, and advertising dollars.
But where can we find a perfect specimen? Human beings are flawed. That is the moral tale of creation. Heroes, by definition, rise to greatness in spite of their imperfections. They live within the constraints of their moment in history. Even our mythic heroes have their weaknesses. Superman has kryptonite; Batman won’t maim or kill; Spiderman struggles with his grief and intense emotions. It is the manner in which they surmount their imperfections that makes them admirable.
Moses was more than his speech impediment. Abraham Lincoln was greater than his bouts of depression. Martin Luther King, Jr. was reported to have had extramarital affairs, but he was on a brave, non-violent quest for justice and the Beloved Community. John F. Kennedy had wealth, privilege and women, too, but the possibilities of life were expanded by his calls for civil rights, public service, and space exploration. None of them were perfect, but each of them made all of us want to be better.
We seem more concerned with fame, but famous is not the same as heroic. Never have we been more confused. Some who become famous are dangerous. They have no saving grace save for the lessons they teach us about evil or greed. They need to be exposed, but, typically, they expose themselves through their words and deeds. We have become obsessed with these individuals, driving up their popularity and wealth by spreading their words and images. A following may be the new measure of success, but having a following is no guarantee of worthiness.
And success in business along with its accompanying wealth, fame, and power is no guarantee of greatness either. Just look at the giants of the tech industry who recently came under scrutiny: Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, and others. We all sacrificed mightily for their successes, our privacy and security are not the least of our contributions. No single political party invented mob rule; social media, the industry of shame, did that. Despite the wealth, fame, and power of these men, do you believe their interests are your interests? You may be willing to follow them to the bank, but would you follow them into battle? Or across the Edmond Pettus Bridge?
Heroes don’t set out to be famous or rich. They set out to be of service, to do what is needed, to stand up for what is right. Heroes leave an inheritance, but not one we fight over. They leave us with something to fight for.
We’ve been robbed. Unfortunately, the police are very busy right now. We are on our own to find the jewels. It is up to each of us now. Thankfully, John Lewis left us some clues. A spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love will be our guide.
We will recognize the jewels by their philosophy and discipline, their moral courage to stand up, and speak up. They might look ordinary, but their vision will be extraordinary. They do not toy with the truth, a truth revealed by history. They answer the highest calling of their hearts and stand up for what they believe. They have laid down the heavy burdens of hate.
Perhaps, the jewels have been hidden in my home or yours. Maybe our children have them. The gems may be at the office, the grocery store, or at church. Fan out and talk to your neighbors. We need our jewels. We want them back.