Friday, January 31, 2014

more "heroism"

Some time after Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger successfully crash-landed a passenger jet in New York's Hudson River on Jan. 15, 2009 -- a crash which all 155 passengers and crew survived -- the now-retired pilot sat patiently through yet another gushing media interview and said that he had thought about the "heroism" which others seemed determined to lay at his doorstep.

At first, he said, he had thought "heroism" was far too grand and inaccurate a description: All he had done, from his point of view, was what he was trained to do; he had just done his job. But then he said he had a second thought ... maybe "people need heroes."

Sullenberger struck me as a man worth listening to -- not so much because he had done his job well on Jan. 15, but rather ... well, he just seemed to be quiet and factual and solid, a person I would listen to if the two of us wound up on adjacent bar stools. He probably had his quirks and curiosities -- some, as with other people, annoying or disagreeable -- but in general, this was a person of a credible substance. Why? It was just a gut hunch... a willingness to imagine that this man thought about what he said and to believe that he was not just some bushy-tailed believer mouthing oh-so-sincere beliefs... another feather merchant.

When Sully Sullenberger said "people need heroes," I was willing to let the thought in, to let it germinate and blossom in my mind. Was it true? And if so, why would it be true? There was no need to agree for the sake of agreeable agreement or to disparage because I had some much-loved countervailing view ... it was just worth thinking about.

Yesterday, I watched a part of of video that depicted a segment of Nishijima Roshi's life. Nishijima was a Zen Buddhist teacher who died at 94 a day or so ago. The video was pleasant enough and I could see in it what others might find encouraging or informative or even, possibly, heroic. But I didn't watch the whole thing. There was no dismissive disrespect in turning it off -- I simply wasn't in the mood for that sort of encouragement or information or, possibly, heroism. Nishijima seemed to have done his job and as much as I was willing to hope he had done his job to his satisfaction, I was not about to lay on my interest or assertiveness and claim that he actually had. The fact that others loved or love him had a warming feel to it, but mostly I just hoped he was happy. I didn't need some Red Bull, caffeine-laced encouragement.

"People need heroes" -- I wonder why?

My best guess is that heroes are the ones who seem to make concrete what others may only dream. If I have some dream, some hopeful bit of imagination, some as-yet-unachieved goal, there is always a wee voice that wonders if I am not out of my cotton-pickin' mind. From a just-dreaming perspective, dreams have a you're-nuts feel to them ... without corroboration, how could I even dare to dream such a dream? But then someone who seems to exemplify the outcome of my dream shows up, saying, by implication, "yes you can" and "it's not such a nutsy dream after all." Sailing around the world, ballooning across America, holding your breath for five minutes, doing a handstand, lifting 500 pounds, gaining enlightenment .... The dream is not really improved or made more real by corroboration, but it allows me to relax a little: I may be headed for the looney bin, but at least I won't be alone... and I like or admire the company I may find there... I will be in the company of heroes, or something very much like it.

I suspect that needing or even demanding a hero is very human stuff and to some extent is useful as well. But it also strikes me as a good warning: When everyone does his or her job, when everyone is a hero, what need would there be for heroism? Wouldn't that be extra. Extra and not terribly interesting? The warning as I see it is that to the extent I have found a hero, it is time to reevaluate and be pretty cautious....

Not because heroes have feet of clay but because I do.

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