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Mighty Myth Month: Heroes.

What is a “hero?”

According to Joseph Campbell, it’s essentially this arc:

There is a call to adventure–refusal of the call–crossing the threshold–initiation–road of trials–belly of the whale—add a dash of apotheosis, atonement, fight that final battle, receive a little rescue from without, cross the return threshold, get the ultimate boon, become master of two worlds, and voila! Hero!

But the hero is more than just a man or woman on a trip around the game of Life. The hero does the thing that the community cannot do for itself. However, the hero is not perfect. The hero has flaws, which his or her naysayers, detractors, and antagonists will work to remind us all for the eternity that the heroes’ good deeds live on. Words like “sacrifice,” “mentor,” and “quest” are commonplace in our vernaculars, and may have lost some of their deeper meanings.

A few months ago, my students worked very hard to dig out the themes of the journey of the hero during a class discussion. I worked very hard to keep my mouth shut, so I could let them struggle, squirm, and think on their own. And their thinking was brilliant. They said the theme of the journey of the hero is “people need to believe in the power of hope.”

Mind you, there were no photographs of Abe Lincoln, President Obama, or Dr. King during the discussion. There were no mass-market media messages displayed in the room.

And that, to me, is the real power of a hero. That their struggles, fight, battles, message, and meaning lives on, even when they’re not in the room.

Thank you, Dr. King.

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Monster spray.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear”–Mark Twain

On Wednesday, while we were reviewing the final Journey of the Hero project, I shared a personal story with some of you about when I was a little girl. My parents were renting a house, and I had a room somewhat separated from the rest of the family. My room had its own bathroom, which on the surface seems very luxurious. The closet in the bathroom, holding cleaners, towels, etc., had a crawl space, that hosted constant shadows, no matter how the light shone in, or how bright the sunlight glowed. There were monsters in that crawl space. No doubt, no question, no mystery. Monsters. Small, yes, but ferocious. Spiky, oozing, biting monsters. Luckily, I had a hero–my dad. When I brought him my worry and concerns about the crawl-space-bathroom-dwelling-monsters, he didn’t dismiss my fears; he solved them. Taking a can of Lysol, he thoroughly sprayed the inside of the monsters’ lair, and all around the bathroom. In my four-year-old’s memory, I can still see those monsters disintegrating like so much foul fog and smoke. He placed the can by my bed, in case I should ever need to kill monsters in the middle of the night. I haven’t had a monster problem since.

That’s kind of a silly story, I know. Just a small moment in time when someone who loved me made me feel braver. I guess I could think of the Monster Spray as being my own supernatural aid.

But we know that heroes face much worse–and that the definition of a hero/heroine is someone who does something for other people without thinking of themselves. But that’s the ideal hero. Humans are far more complicated than that. It’s the complications I want you to think about. We can’t relate to heroes who make it look easy all the time-it becomes unattainable. Maybe that’s why in Greek/Roman mythology, the gods/goddesses are flawed. Maybe that’s why in the Bible story of David and Goliath, David is this runt kid. Maybe that’s why in the legend of Joan of Arc, she’s this crazy teenage girl. There’s the Jewish story of a young girl named Esther, who saved her people through her bravery. Scheherazade used her brains and beauty to tell imaginative stories that not only saved her own neck, but showed her loyalty and faithfulness.

But what is the nature of bravery, and courage?

From Mr. Spencer’s Blog:  I saw a woman lose it at the grocery store the other day. She picked up a pink box  and slammed it to the shelf. I can’t remember the words exactly, but she said, “they’re using cancer to sell cereal. I’m sick of it. Why can’t they just have a celebrity?” And she started into a loud rant that quickly cleared the aisle and left her husband red-faced.

She stopped herself after knocking down a few of the boxes. I stared at Brenna and heard, “I’m sick of wearing pink and I’m tired of pretending. Cancer sucks.”

As I drove my cart off, she took off her hat and cried right there in the grocery store. Loud tears. Heaving sobs. Her husband held her.

Listen to these three stories, chosen because the storyteller met an obstacle, or had to overcome a fear:

http://www.storycorps.org/listen/stories/griselda-lemus-and-her-mother-papsy

http://www.storycorps.org/listen/stories/john-hope-franklin-with-his-son-john-w-franklin

http://www.storycorps.org/listen/stories/ezra-awumey-and-sam-harmon