When I was six, Strawberry Shortcake was my perpetual hero and the personification of all that was good in life. By day, she kicked the Purple Pie Man’s ass. By night, she slept on my pillow, infusing the air with the most delicious faux-strawberry aroma you could ever imagine.
Every morning, I would brush her choppy hair with a red doll comb. Each swipe would release that heavenly strawberry scent into the air. I’d inhale deeply, trapping the fruity essence in my nose, and head off to school.
We spent hours together. Perusing the Avon catalog. Watching cartoons. Formulating plans to off the Purple Pie Man so that Strawberryland would be safe for babies and dogs. Every so often I would raise her hair to my nose and whiff. It was mouthwatering.
Soon, though, her tresses began to lose that delectable strawberry scent. No amount of brushing would bring it back. And, finally, it was gone. Her eyes became less bright. More beady. She started saying “damn” a lot.
Heroes don’t say “damn.”
And Strawberry Shortcake began sleeping on the shelf instead of on my pillow.
Why do we have heroes, anyway?
I wrestled with this question recently while attending a large conference full of people trying to do good work in the world. In the period of a weekend, I lost two of my heroes. As in, they fell… hard… off the pedestals I had put them on.
It was inevitable. Being an imperfect human being means you fall. A lot.
Bring a helmet.
You see, when we make people our heroes, we do so because they embody those bits and pieces of humanity that we wished we possessed. Superman is a hero because he fights injustices. Winston Churchill is a hero because he was able to rally a world with his impassioned words. Mother Teresa is a hero because of her unconditional compassion towards those who were suffering.
People stir my heart.
At the same time, our world has been filtered to death. Heroes are no exception.
A typical post on Superman’s Facebook page might read:
In reality, his day probably went more like this:
Persona is not the same thing as The Person.
And that’s why my heroes fell.
I had built up expectations about what they would be like, based on personas that had been carefully polished on social media and then embellished by the inner-workings of my own frenetic mind. When I finally met these heroes of mine, I was disappointed because they were so incredibly… human.
And kind of shitty, as most humans are from time to time. Dismissive. Rude. Insecure.
I didn’t catch my heroes on a bad day. I caught them living life.
They are glorious messes that have bills to pay, drains to unclog, and dreams to make happen.
Just like me.
I am right beside them in the trenches.
What if, instead of heroes, we had allies? What if we stopped holding people to impossible standards? What if we viewed others through the common lens of what it means to be human?
Less heroes, more vulnerability
Less pedestals, more conversations over coffee.
Superman thanks you.