Friday, March 27, 2009
Hero worship & the end of mountains
The last runner sometimes is the best man ....
In a passing comment the other day, I mentioned that the British soldier, explorer and writer, Richard Burton, was one of my "heroes," which started me thinking: Does the male of the species ever outgrow hero worship?
Definitions and semantics play a role here, just as they do in every concept. In terms of admiring other men for various attributes, I know I still do, and the characteristics involved have remained fairly consistent since I was a boy -- but, with a few adjustments along the way.
There are a few athletes I admire. This does not so much involve talent at hitting a baseball or the ability to throw a football 60 yards accurately. Rightly or wrongly, I think such stuff is maybe 80 percent accident of birth and 20 percent hard work. For me, the admiration involves such people as those who do not whine about not being paid enough, those who do not cheat, those who keep getting up when they are exhausted or hurt.
The same is pretty much the case with men in any field, I think. God-given talents separate us all in degrees. Some are gifted with big muscles, some with big brains, while most of us just hang out watching -- looking for somewhere we might excel.
Sometime during the last week or two of high school, I happened to be walking with a school mate who was a year younger, and who I would term an acquaintance rather than a friend. During the conversation, he said he admired me and envied my athletic ability. I was genuinely surprised because I had always considered myself middle-of-the-road in that regard, and knew others with greater skills and who, in fact, I admired and envied.
This young man was always the last to finish running laps after football practice. He was the slowest on the team. Neither was he particularly strong. Although he was physically bigger than I was, I still had literally run over him more than once on the practice field. But, he never quit running until he had completed all his required laps and he always got up after being knocked down.
That was the last time I talked with him. High school ended for me, and I was forever on the road. Not too many years later, though, I saw a photograph of him in a national magazine. He was in the Army. He was in the Special Forces. He was standing among the toughest of the tough, the best of the best.
It was about that time I caught on to the fact that it should have been me admiring him back on the high school football field, for putting his entire being into accomplishing those goals he set his mind to, rather than being satisfied to live off his natural talents alone, like I had been back then.
Where have all the mountains gone?
Life is becoming more artificial by the day. Soon, there will be nothing unique, nothing individual left, or am I wrong about that?
I know a man who has been atop Mount Everest. He got himself into great physical shape, wrote out a check and off he went. Little more than six decades ago, the summit of Everest had yet to be conquered. Those who have stood there now number in the thousands.
One hundred years ago, men were dying trying to be the first to reach both the North Pole and the South Pole. For a few thousand dollars today, a person can fly to the North Pole, possibly land if conditions cooperate, or pay a few more dollars and tour the Antarctic in cruise ship comfort. Men and women cross the polar caps, re-supplied from the air, broadcasting their "adventure" to anyone who owns a computer and signs up for internet service.
Climb a plastic cliff with a rope around your waist in case you fall, and feel the thrill. Kill the Nazis on a computer game and feel flush with pride. Jump from a plane, be a temporary bird, and feel the rush. Stand on the stage at a karaoke bar and feel the adulation.
Personal accomplishment is nothing to make fun of or to belittle, and my point is not to do that. To run a greater distance tomorrow than today is real accomplishment; to obtain a college degree is real accomplishment. What I am saying is that true individuality is rapidly becoming a thing of the past, and sameness reigns supreme. Why bother to climb Mount Everest now other than for the personal pleasure of it? There is nothing especially unique about it anymore. Not much more than a checkbook is required.
Myth and legend, true daring and challenge, are fading into history, being replaced by fantasy and games. Goodbye, Sir Edmund Hillary; hello, Harry Potter. Not only is the world shrinking geographically, but so seems to be the imagination of mankind. Sort of boring now.
Music Note: Listening to .38 Special ....
Specifically, "Live at Sturgis" ....
Some lines from: "Fantasy Girl:"
Lately I'm learnin
That so many yearnings are never to be
The childhood illusions are merely delusions of a girl that I see
In my minds eye
I see clearly a vision of how it could be
Me and my fantasy girl
Hold on to me
Be my fantasy girl
Don't set me free
Now I've had my share
Sometimes I swear that I've had enough
You end up in sorrow
Broken tomorrows, love can be tough
But my minds eye sees a vision of true love and how it should be
Me and my fantasy girl
Hold on to me
(Neat song, and the band has the greatest name of any band.)