Since I read A Wrinkle in Time in the 5th grade, Madeleine L’Engle has been my favorite author. In high school, I graduated from the Time Quartet and into Ring of Endless Light. In college, I took up L’Engle’s Crosswicks Journals, adult novels, and spiritual writing.
I loved her. In my head, she was my wise grandmother, full of literary references and charming idiosyncrasies. So imagine my dismay, sadness and confusion when I read the 2004 New Yorker profile. Her book jackets describe a family life of “charming confusion,” but the whole story includes adultery, resentment, alcohol abuse, convenient memory lapses… and perhaps most egregious: the use of family stories and heartbreak in service to her novels.
It took me a while to integrate the story of the real person, her novels, and my idealized image. It was hard work, and I still miss the soft focus Grandmother Madeleine from my adolescent fantasy. Like any person we love or idolize or hate, she was human. Madeline died in 2007.
Were you watching politics last week? After the debate on Sunday October 9, online media anointed Ken Bone, an undecided voter who asked a question about climate change and economic growth, with many accolades:
- The Real Winner of the 2nd Debate: Ken Bone!
- Ken Bone: The Hero America Needs
- Adorable Sweater Wearer Ken Bone (OK maybe I made that one up)
By the end of the week though, Ken had fallen on hard times. Turns out, Ken has some questionable opinions about race relations and an unfortunate online history including pornography. Many Americans are re-thinking their Sexy Ken Bone Halloween costume. It happened so fast: discovery, putting on a pedestal, taking over social media, more discovery, anxiety, disillusionment.
We humans seem to have a deep need to find heroes… or make them. I’m thinking about how this is related to the Myth of Redemptive Violence – how our dualistic and immature thinking encourages us to sort people around us into boxes labeled Hero and Villain. But that connection is the subject of another blog (perhaps after the election!).
For today, I just want to observe this pattern is and suggest a response when we notice it happening.
- The Cycle Begins: Who is this person? Why are they suddenly all over the news and social media?
- Meme-ification: the boiling down of a flesh-and-blood person into a funny shareable graphic. Case in point: Notorious RBG.
- Hmm. This is the pause of awareness. You might notice your eyes narrow into a squint or your forehead wrinkle. Maybe you feel an urge to scratch your chin thoughtfully.
- Deep Breath. And deep breath again.
- Go Deeper. Why is this person suddenly the cause of many, many problems or the solution? What is it about this person that’s appearing to meet a need in me or in our culture or group?
- Compassion. Is it overwhelming to be this week’s Ken Bone? How is that person expected to cope and adapt? Why am I susceptible to this pattern? How can I better acknowledge and meet my own needs?
- Listening. We do need heroes and inspiring figures. Heroes remind of us what’s wonderful about being human and what’s possible for all of us. So FIND SOME. We don’t need to look far. When we listen to the stories of those around us, we discover that everyone has something to teach us.
Find a hero this week. Listen to their story and instead of boiling it down to a slogan, look for the complexity. Strive to really see and accept the people you admire.
Be a hero this week. Share your own story humbly and honestly. Acknowledge the complexity in your life. Strive to live a life worthy of your calling.
The readers of the SWC blog aren’t going to overwhelm the hero-making, hero-destroying culture of the Internet all by ourselves. But we can add to the peace and spiritual maturity of the circles in which we move. And that’s a very good thing.