It is easy to deceive someone who longs to be dazzled. It’s so easy to follow the pretty shiny thing in the dark night or too bright day, when the steady work has worn us down and we can’t see far enough, from lack of light or exhaustion, to recognize another soul making an ounce of effort. We get discouraged, put down our tools and cry for a hero.
The greatest mistake we make is ignoring the beauty woven into our lives to search for the shining holy grail. Enticed by dreams of jewels and riches and sparkling people, our gaze fixes beyond the breathtaking strokes of color on the horizon. Our vista may be cluttered with battered buildings, streets and wires or as freshly open as a waking field and we can not see it. Reality weighs on our spirits, dingy and uninspiring, when we’re desperate to taste a nectar so sweetly refreshing it must belong to another world. And if the subtle art of a morning sky, the delicate scent of a juicy fruit, or the sweet trill of a calling bird can’t penetrate our distraction, how could the heavy grace of another flawed human?
What if the holy grail is the rough cup in my hand? What if the hero who will save me is… me, or my mother, or my next door neighbor? What if we don’t need a hero at all?
We plan our adventures to beyond the horizon, but the treasure always lies just out of reach. Where do we start? Is there a passage across space lurking in a cave on the outskirts of town that ends at the treasure trove marked with a giant X? Is there a secret club in New York or Paris or Dubai that will unlock the secrets of the universe once I’ve earned my first billion? If my beautiful image is splattered across the screens of the world, will I at last be enveloped in the arms of true love? The days and disappointments accumulate. The un-granted wishes tarnish as a growing mass in our hearts until they threaten to break our chests open. That’s when we’re the most vulnerable. If all of my constant efforts have led to nothing, maybe I’m not the one who makes my happiness. Maybe there’s someone smarter, richer, more beautiful, more talented who can grant my wishes. I must need a hero.
Along come the Deceivers. The most ancient tales of temptation glorify them with their richly textured condemnation: the serpent, the talespinner, the illusionist, the dark wizard. The ripe scent of longing lures them in. In a flash of clear perception, they know what we want. The wry smile curves their lips at our blindness. What we need is all around us, it’s even part of us and we have no idea. Friends offer a pleasant chat over dinner, but we hold out for King Arthur’s Court. Children invite us to play, but the next dollar beckons from just one more transaction. Lovers open their lives with a glance, but we turn to the beauty on the screen that flickers behind them. Clouds in the sky form answers to the formless questions in our minds, but we have to answer this tweet. The warm beat of our very full hearts taps out the code of unconditional love, but the soft message is drowned by the buzz and clang of the rushing crowd. We are tired of searching, tired of waiting, tired of wishing. We long to be dazzled.
They dazzle us. Oh, the glory they paint over rough boards is stunning, if a little lurid. They give us just what we beg for and we pay through the nose for it. Smoke and mirrors and perfumes overwhelm our greedy senses. Humans are made to absorb sensations with every cell. We’ve turned ours off to the world we fill as we strain for clues from the one we seek. When we’re starved, any food is manna from the heavens. And when the sordid truth rises up from the fine print on the glossy package, we ignore it, too hungry to stop gorging ourselves. But the tricks only last so long, and the deceivers know it. When the listlessness crashes back in, and our nerve endings throb from the onslaught of flash, all that’s left of the show are the echoes and scraps. The frayed curtain flaps in the wind. We suffer loudly.
Usually, this is where we blame whoever put on the show, grab our pitchforks and call for an avenger to chase down the deceivers and wrench from them the dignity we handed over with our cash. But the longing creeps back and we’re too tired from the rush and crash to do more than complain. The little energy that remains channels into long and vibrant strings of words that blend into a muffled roar.
A plain, clear voice rings out from the bewildering noise. This one doesn’t want revenge. This one wants change. This one was cooking dinner, playing with children, growing food, fixing leaks, healing wounds, hugging friends, listening to troubles, watching life unfold, cleaning house, making art, singing songs, while we watched the show. “We’re still here,” the voice says. “We have each other. Why don’t we clean up, get some rest, and see how we feel in the morning.” The crowd of voices shouts its wrath and the voice fades into the distance. We buzz in vain as we wait for the hero to come and lead us to victory.
Oh we love our heroes, the ones we can’t touch. We dress them in armor or leather, or robes or spandex and give them amazing powers. They rise from the mist of other eras, other planets, extreme conditions to glow backlit at the edge of our cloying darkness or unforgiving glare. Storytellers from Homer to Stan Lee have spun tales of their great feats and great flaws. Bards from the first wandering minstrels to the Foo Fighters have sung of their exploits. When the hero is viewed across the distance of time, wealth or fantasy they can make mistakes. No matter how dark their doubtful passage, how thoroughly they embody cruelty, we forgive them when they save the day in the end.
Our flesh and blood heroes aren’t so lucky, they have to be perfect. They can’t be steady and sensible and wholesome. If they swear or drink or lie or cheat or steal or blaspheme or sleep around or have a mole, or have any fat, or have bad days, or speak with a lisp or fumble for words, they can’t be a hero. If they don’t, there is something wrong with them or “they think they’re so high and mighty.” A hero must live beyond the best that we’ve come to know. However smart, creative, rich, beautiful, kind, understanding, strong, skilled, crafty or impressive we are, they have to be 10 or 100, or 1000 times more so. They have to dazzle us.
A human hero is expected to never have doubt or temptation, never make a mistake, never choose among competing priorities, never give the impression that they’ve done anything they shouldn’t, but have every one of our weaknesses. It is impossible to fill that job description. And what healthy person would want to fill it?
The good people I know just shake their heads when no one will listen, and get back to their lives. Those are the ones I started to see when the blinding flash faded enough for my world to come into focus. Those are the ones whose clear voices I started to hear.
They may not be heroes in the flashy sense. They may prefer to lead from the middle where they can tend to the slow and wounded as the fresh rush out ahead to scout the path. They wear no armor but their values. They look out of place in leather or robes, and does anybody look good in spandex? Truly, anyone? They tell corny jokes and argue with their families, bosses or both. They have flaws they don’t hesitate to admit – too quiet sometimes, too outspoken at others, can’t resist coffee or chocolate, beer and fries or wine and cheese, addicted to books or technology or exercise, too trusting of the wrong people, too suspicious of the right ones. They laugh like animals, cry like faucets or rocks, and overflow with information. They have good reason to apologize now and then, but they do apologize.
The good people I know have amazing powers. They listen with their minds and hearts open. They think of everyone involved when they solve the problems that face them. They learn as much as they can and share what they know with those who need it. They appreciate what they have and make the most of it. They consider the consequences of their actions and adjust their course to cause the least possible damage. They agonize over tough ethical dilemmas like whether or not to use the pennies in the cup at the register when they are short 6 cents and have no reserves to draw from. They channel their anger at injustices done to them into soft words of praise for the unappreciated. They choose to live here and now, to help those who are next to them, and forgo distant glory to suck the marrow from the bones of life in their own kitchens.
What if we stop chasing dreams and build better lives? What if instead of untouchable heroes, we embrace real flesh and blood human people to live with and learn from?
In my profession, there’s a lot of talk about influence. The one whose voice is the loudest and reaches the furthest corner of the room is given the most sway by those who value the art of deception. So the mob chatter of anger and bragging and blame gets louder and louder. In our culture too, glamour is more valued than substance. Have you noticed that the chatter may be louder but the glamour doesn’t satisfy anymore? The loud voices are mostly noise. We want to share ideas. The sound grows and morphs until any thread of sense is lost in the thrilling cacophony.
Suddenly the cloud of sound bursts with a bright flash and the roiling emotion pours down. Just like one of those sudden tropical storms, the flood rushes for a few harrowing moments. Then the throb of stillness expands to fill the space. The steady beat of each of our truths sounds out in synch. The clear pure harmony of reason and truth rises again above the rhythm. If we can pause to listen, maybe we can learn to love what we have and cherish what we love. Maybe our heroes can be plain extraordinary good people who sometimes make mistakes.
It’s nice to be able to hug a hero and have a real conversation with one. I was sick of making up the answers to my questions. Thank you Jeff, Wendy, Stephanie, Aunt Janie, Pat, Grandpa Karsten, Aunt Kate, Shirley, Eddie, Rebecca, Roxanne, Jim, Sally, John, Sharon, Brian, Pete, Tom, Morgan, Mark, Sidney, Susan, Kelly, Spyros, Mary, Dale, Linda, Frank, Gwen, Jeanne, Peggy, Harvey, Carol, Larry, Richard, Reggie, Barbara, Kathy, Shazia, Diana, Ann, Karissa, Claude, Virginie, Michiko, Bill, Zave, Carolyn, Jun and so many more. You make real life feel like a fabulous adventure.