The Hero’s Song

I was surfing the internet when I found a trailer for the upcoming Superman movie, Man of Steel. When I was done watching it I realized I had tears in my eyes.

As I get older, I find myself choking up more at things – just like my father. But it didn’t take much to figure out why my emotions were stirred. Yeah, I’ve always had a soft spot for The Supe, but it wasn’t just the thought of a guy in a cape generating sonic thunderclaps as he soared though the clouds – though that was wicked cool. No, it was something older, sacred and powerfully wrapped up in the DNA of world culture – the idea of a champion. The superman. The One.

The Song of the Hero.

The literatures of the world abound with tales of strong men tested to the limit but whose virtue remains unbroken. Religion is filled with prophesied figures that defeat death; free the oppressed and spread hope to the living. It’s an ancient archetype that Joseph Campbell explained better than I ever will.

Whether we admit it or not, we all yearn for a protector. We’re always on the lookout for a savior. The Hero is one of our oldest myths and it resonates throughout the human experience. And like all myths it developed from peoples’ need to assuage their greatest anxieties on a communal level. Stories have always been how we cope with our deepest fears and express our greatest hopes. We yearn for someone who is incorruptible, who can boldly go where we fear to tread.

Yet as we get older we realize we are weak and corruptible. We stumble and fall. Religions burn us, politicians lie to us, love withers and we become too jaded for our own good. We stop believing in people who are good for goodness’ sake. All motives are mixed and somebody’s always on the take. An overgrown Boy Scout running around in a costume looks ridiculous and naïve. That’s for children. That’s not how the world works.

But as I watched that clip, I was reminded The Hero is unstoppable. He has always been there for us. He has a thousand faces and his story has been told in a multitude of tongues. He is the personification of the best of us in spite of us. We all need to listen for his song.

We’ve heard that song when astronauts launched into the heavens and walked on the moon. We heard it when men raced into burning towers to save their fellow man and when a girl got shot fighting to educate her sisters. We’ve heard his call watching someone dive into a river to save drowning boy, staring open-mouthed at an athlete scoring an impossible point or when a scientist changes how we look at the world. Sometimes the song is a quiet one – a couple struggling to take care of their children, a person finally learning to forgive and move on.

Far from being a kid’s cartoon, The Hero calls us into the fullness of adulthood. He inspires us to follow his lead – to face our fears, grow up and, most importantly, to be of service to others. He prods us to accept the great dictum of life – that living for others is the only way to truly live.

When I have kids of my own, I know they will put a red towel around their shoulders and pretend to fly around the house. That’s because at bedtime I will have sung to them about a hero who is faster then a speeding bullet, more powerful and a locomotive and can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Of course, when they are older and I am dead they’ll know it was only a story – but a good one. One they can turn to when the going gets tough, when they need inspiration to sing their own song.

I hope my children will always look to the heavens, secretly trying to catch a flash of red and blue thundering through the clouds. I hope they will always believe a man can fly.


Comments

The Hero’s Song — 23 Comments

  1. Well, then there is how Bonnie Tyler explained it in song. “I need a hero…” Heroes are symbols of could be within the heart of the human being if it wasn’t for the part that humans have fallibility. Superman embodies what is good in all of us. Again, to use popular culture to embody what you are trying to say, at the end of the first “Ghostbusters” when the guys needed a symbol of things that a good and virtuous about the American spirit, they choose the Statue of Liberty. Good post today, Steve.

  2. To me a hero is someone who stands up for both the middle class and the poor. Somebody who does not force religious dogma down peoples throats. Somebody who does not hold prisoner a woman’s right to choose what she does with her life. Somebody who uses their power, influence, and money to better America’s existence. The rich old white men of the corporate establishment, combined with the radical Christian Right, have decimated the fabric of what FDR began in the 1930s.

    People were getting hired, wages were getting better, infrastructure began improving, and WWII brought about an amazing togetherness this country has not felt since. During the war, employment was at a booming rate. Truman followed, and the postwar heyday of America was on. Then Eisenhower, then Kennedy, then Johnson. Johnson had the Vietnam war at its most brutal, and he could not escape that, but he signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964. It took many years for it to get legs, and many people died for it, but it was a truly progressive moment in America’s history.

    Then came what I consider to be the downfall of America: Nixon, and the increasingly corrupt string of criminals that followed (Ford and Carter get passes for trying to clean up after Nixon): Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II. Clinton was a good president, and got stuff done whilst a hostile Congress between Bush I and Bush II, and ended his time in office with a gigantic budget surplus! Who cares about him and Monica? Unemployment wasn’t horrible, not like the crash of ’87 under Reagan.

    The Bushies have gone above and beyond to destroy the economy for the everyman, and the Republicans have sided with big Oil, Big Pharma, and Big Koch. Both Bush dudes failed in the Middle East war efforts, and wrecked the Federal Budget in doing so, at the expense of us at home.

    Sorry I have gone on so long. If I had to pick a hero for me, I can’t look to today’s leaders. I would vote for FDR 4 times!

  3. I can relate to the choking up as you get older. The memories of childhood…..
    Where have all the years gone?
    I think that’s why we all love kids and then grandkids as we try to visualise life through their uncluttered eyes.
    I always wanted to be a cowboy hero. There you go I have said it.

  4. My goodness, I came back here expecting one, maybe two new stories! I see you’ve been banging them out. Now I’ll have something to do for the rest of this night.

  5. Steve, I am a complete dumbass when it comes to twitter. Can you tell me how to post your friend’s missing kid on twitter & I will do it.

  6. You are such a good writer! Yep I love this story- I wish I could be like superman, don’t necessarily need the super powers, just the super conscience and goodness that superman represents. We really are pretty weak I think. It’s hard to find good people these days.

  7. Steve
    Nice post – I certainly got much more weepy as I got older and especially once I had kids of my own.
    I actually came here for much more mundane reasons.
    I am an Aussie and, as you know, we have no tipping culture here. I recently returned from a trip to the US and think I mostly handled the tipping ok (thanks to your helpful insight). I do, however, have one or two questions.
    I paid for almost everything on a credit card. When I paid at the end of the meal it wasn’t difficult to add the tip to the credit card print-out.
    However, two times I ate at buffets, once in Vegas in a casino, once in SLC at a buffet restaurant. At the casino I paid upfront and the cc slip had a spot for tip on it. How the heck am I supposed to put in a tip BEFORE I have even entered the restaurant? I have no idea about the service I am about to receive.
    At both really the only service we received was bussing our table. What is the proper tip for that?
    Thanks.

    • I’ve been to casino buffets here in southern AZ and in Las Vegas, and I leave a cash tip at the table, usually 20% of what I pay for the buffet up front. That may seem a bit much, but I waited table at a hotel up in the Laurentians the summer after I graduated from high school, and Canadians are notoriously lousy tippers. The experience taught me a lot!

  8. So I picked out your book Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip Confessions of a Cynical Waiter for my memoir project at school. After finishing it today, I wanted to check out your blog because I really like you’re writing style. It’s the perfect blend of sarcasm and deep thinking. It’s hard to pull that off but you do. I also liked it because you didn’t try to glamorize it in any way, instead you told the truth and said deal with it. So thanks, there aren’t a lot of people out there who will tell it like it is. I also enjoy how you can blend words in such a way that it makes people feel something when they read it like in this post about a hero’s song. It’s almost like music but for words not songs. So anyway I really enjoyed you’re book and I just wanted some way to tell you about it. Although you probably won’t even read this comment it’s still good to write it all down and send it somewhere. So thanks Steve, thanks for writing that book

  9. Help! I don’t know where else to turn but I’m at waiter in Long Island, NY and my job is making me payback a tip that somebody is disputing from 3 months ago! Do I have any legal ground to stand on?

  10. I loved your post. So thoughtful. My idea of a hero is someone who saves your life and does it just because it is who they are. Here’s my example. I was 42 years old, a registered nurse and working 12 hour shifts in a very busy Intensive Care Unit. Did I mention I was 8 1/2 months pregnant? I mostly worked day shifts, but I hated working nights (7 PM – 7 AM).
    I was just trying to take a nap on a sunny day about 1 PM, before my night shift. I was as big as a house and dreading this awful night shift. Then, my co-worker and friend, Brenda called. She said, ” Do you mind if I work your night shift tonight and you can work my day shift tomorrow? I worked last night and I’m on a roll!” I couldn’t believe I was hearing those lovely words!! I thanked her over and over, and gave birth to my wonderful son a few weeks later on my 43rd birthday!!

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  12. I’ve always thought it was funny when movie snobs poo-poo popular movies, when it’s these that tell us the most about ourselves. Superman, The Avengers, Batman – these things are an anthropological goldmine. I’ve always thought that myths are about what is missing from our lives. In the case of superhero movies we see a desire for justice, equality, a reason to hope that the world can change, etc.

  13. Don’t look up in the sky waiting for a hero to fly by. Look down at the ground. Now. See those feet? Your hero has arrived. Now go and be the hero for someone else. Along the way you’ll find the rest of the heroes you yearn for.

  14. Steve -

    I just finished “Waiter Rant” and I am SO thankful that you published this. I worked at a cinemas for almost 5 years and everything you wrote about is applicable to every service industry job. The worst part was the management. I don’t know if it’s a small town or a monopoly thing, but it was terrible for our customers, not just our coworkers, and I’ve been keeping track of it (until I was burned out, myself). I wish every single one of them would read your book, and maybe start seeing themselves as some of the characters (particularly the owners).

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