Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Salute to Heroes

 Today marks the fifth of five installments of Letters to Pilky's first Recognition Week, where we here at LtP recognize those who, well, deserve recognition.

"Remember kid, there's heroes and there's legends.  Heroes get remembered, but legends never die." - Babe Ruth, the Sandlot (If you actually needed that citation, I'm extremely disappointed)
Can you believe there isn't a picture of Ruth's ghost in Smalls' room on the internet?
From the first time I heard the above quote, I was sure that it only meant one thing: be a legend, become immortal, do things that nobody else has ever done (ok, that's three things, but how lame is the phrase, "I was sure that it only meant three things").  Now, I'm sure that this is not only impossible, but that I would never want to encounter a situation where it was possible. 

People don't become legends.  Moments become legendary.  Legends come about because of things that heroes do that will never be forgotten, that will be passed on until the end of time.  The 300 at Thermopylae weren't legends, but their stand is a moment that has become legendary.  Paul Revere wasn't a legend, but his ride is a moment that became legendary.  Babe Ruth wasn't a legend, but when he pointed his bat over the center field fence at Wrigley Field, he created a legendary moment.  Neil Armstrong wasn't a legend, but when he stepped onto the moon he created a legendary moment.  The 1980 U.S. hockey team wasn't made up of legends, but when they beat the Russians they created a legendary moment.

These are moments that stand out forever in time.  Moments that you can mention offhandedly and everyone will know what you're talking about and where they were when it happened.  Legends aren't people, but situations.  Snapshots in time.  Images that make us awestruck and proud and amazed all at the same time, no matter how involved we are or were in the situation.
I'm fairly certain that all of you know exactly what this was.
Heroes are just people who stand out further and shine brighter than everybody else.  This doesn't mean that they have to stand out to everybody, just to whoever it is that they're a hero to.  They have their faults and their downsides, but they're still important enough in the lives of some where it doesn't matter that they mess up, because the ups and downs are what make them human.  Would we really look up to our heroes if they were legends?  They'd be totally unreachable: impossible to grasp, impossible to comprehend.  Would we go out into our backyards and our basements and pretend to be them hour after hour, day after day, year after year in our childhoods?  Would we sit at our desks and wonder, "What if?" as we approach adulthood?  We'll tell our kids about the legendary moments because they are a part of our culture, but they're distant, they're not personal.  We have relationships with our heroes.  Heroes make us cry.  Heroes make us dream.  Heroes make us downright giddy.  Heroes aren't larger than life, they are a part of life.
"When I walked down the street people would've looked and they would've said there goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was in this game"
The Babe had it right in The Sandlot, legends are immortal.  Legendary moments never end.  Heroes, however, are the ones that get remembered.  They are remembered as people, they are remembered as real, they are remembered as much for who they are as for what they did and as much for the times that they made us cheer as for the times that they made us cry.  Moses killed a man, Thomas Jefferson and FDR slept around, Mickey Mantle was a drunk, Michael Jordan is an asshole.  Nobody is perfect, but they don't have to be.  These people accomplished great things, incredible things, things that nobody thought could be done.  Can you honestly say that they aren't good heroes, or that you haven't looked at them in a hero's light?

If heroes were perfect in every regard, nobody would look up to them in the way that we do.  It would be impossible to replicate them or even outdo them from the time that we made our first mistake.  We would respect them and admire them, but we could never be them, and the possibility of being them is what's so beautiful and so terrifying and so incredible about having a hero.  If they were legends, they'd be perfect, and perfection is impossible to replicate.  This is why legendary moments are legendary.  They are perfect.  They can't be changed.  Perfection is possible, but only for brief moments in time, and they are so rare that when they do happen they are impossible to forget.
"This team is perfect. We stepped out on that field that way tonight. And, uh, if it's all the same to you, Coach Boone, that's how we want to leave it."
Heroes aren't perfect, they can't be.  They brush perfection and then lose it, but for every time that they are that close to it there is another time that they couldn't be farther away.  Both types of moments seem to last forever, but heroes are able to accept that.  They know that glory is fleeting, but they know that disappointment is too.  Anybody can be bold when they hit that high, but true courage shows up when they hit the low.  These are the people that we look up to.  These are our heroes.

I believe that labeling a person as your hero is the greatest compliment and the greatest statement of love that can be made.  I know this because I have heroes, and they are the people that I respect most.  Jim Thome is on that list.  Ben Folds is on that list.  So is Howard Roark.  But above them are my brothers and my parents and my grandparents, my coaches and my friends.  These are the people who have influenced me.  These are the people who have qualities that I wish I had.  These are the people who I love

So here's to heroes, both those who have created legendary moments that the world knows and those who are only a hero to one person.  Thank you for being real.  Thank you for being attainable.  Thank you for showing us that even though we can't be perfect forever there's no reason why we shouldn't strive for perfection anyway.

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