Growing up on a steady diet of Star Wars movies and comic books, from a very early age I have always craved excitement and adventure even though that wise, backward talking Yoda made it very clear that… “A Jedi craves not these things.”
I have always dreamed of becoming a hero, the one and only person that can hold back the storm of evil brewing just over the horizon. The guy that people look to and admire and say under their breath: “there goes my hero”. When I was 5 or 6 I found a red towel in the downstairs closet. It was a towel that was not for everyday use, it didn’t have a matching hand towel and washcloth (yes, I grew up in one of those homes), and so it was relegated to use at the community pool or to dry off the dogs when they came inside wet and muddy. It was a large towel; bright red with frayed edges, and from that day on it was my cape, it became the symbol of my superhero alter ego. I would tie it around my neck and run around the backyard pretending to save a wide assortment of stuffed animals from a villain named “Mr. Green” that lived in our shed. I would spend hours back there running around in circles with my arms stretched out in front of me making “wooshing” sounds until my mom would call out the kitchen window and tell me to come inside. I would then untie the cape, fold it neatly, and sneak it back down into the closet…I mean, my secret superhero hide out. Heading back up stairs I would dust myself off and put on the visage of a normal average suburban kid, my secret identity. Knowing all the while, as I sat there and ate my raviolis, that underneath the surface beat the heart of a hero.
Fast-forward a few years.
I’m not sure when it happened but at some point I stopped playing superhero in the backyard, stopped dreaming about saving the world, and gave up on being admired and looked up to. At some point my secret identity became, well, my identity. And as far as I know Mr. Green is still up to his old tricks of hiding stuffed animals in the bushes unchecked.
I think at some point we all closed the closet door and forget about the cape, we got caught up with impressing people not with heroism, but success.
Success at work
Success in our bank accounts
Success through our kids’ athletic or academic accomplishments
Success with the amount of power we wield in our communities
At some point we stop living out the characteristics of the hero and start taking on the traits of the villain. Our ethos becomes more about the accumulation of stuff and the appearance of being right, than about sacrifice and being a servant to all of humanity. We’ve become a society of Tony Starks and Bruce Wayne’s without the chivalry. We at some point bought into the myth that we are actually our secret identity.
This is the point in the article where I’m supposed to make a generalized apology, where I’m required to say something like: “Now, I know not everyone is like that” or “there are still a lot of heroes out there” and then mention Police officers, Fire Fighters, Soldiers, etc… and in all honesty if you are one of those people then please feel free to stop reading this right now.
The honest to goodness truth is I know there are heroes among us…I live with one. I know many police officers, nurses, soldiers and firemen. I know teachers and pastors, doctors and pharmacists. I’m close to insurance agents and interior decorators, waitresses and janitors. Each and every one of them is a hero in their own right.
And just because there are heroes in the world doesn’t make what I just said any less true, these men and women are the exception that proves the rule. And I’m not talking to them, I’m talking to you, I’m talking to me.
And believe me when I say: (dramatic music builds)
I know who you are, and I know what you are capable of, and your secret is NOT safe with me. Your disguise of a mild-mannered citizen isn’t fooling anyone. It’s time to open that long-closed closet door, reach deep inside and retrieve the symbol of who you truly are.
It’s time to stop breeding a culture of secret identities, letting heroes do all the dirty work and the villains make all the decisions, while we pretend to be average.
It’s time to remember what we all knew as kids, that within each of us is the strong beating heart of a hero, an individual who has the power to change the world, to make a difference, to stand up against greed and tyranny and to pick up the broken and support the weak.
Now do me a favor, go to the mirror, take a good long look at yourself, strike a good heroic pose…try the fists-on-the-hip look - that’s a classic! And strive to see what I see, what I know.
You are a hero.
Erik Ewing is the Program Director for The Authenticity Project; you can contact Erik at TheAuthenticityProject@gmail.com.