Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The heroes in our midst...

Yesterday the winds brought sad tidings. A great man had passed on. He had lived a full and fulfilling life and the universe let him sign off in style by ensuring that even his last breath was spent doing what he loved doing most - teaching and inspiring another generation. I have, unfortunately, never met or listened to Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam in person and yet I felt the loss in an intensely personal way. It was as if one of the bright lights that radiated warmth and hope had been suddenly put out. The world seemed a little darker, at least for a while.

It got me thinking. As the years pass by, stories of life and death hit us with increasing frequency. And yet, I don't seem to be impacted by all the highs and lows the same way. So why would I feel this way about a man I have never met once in my life. Was it his speeches or his books or the articles I had read about him? How much of it was based on fact versus someone else's perception of facts. How much of it was based on what I wanted him to be versus what he really was. I don't really know. I also realized that many of the people I consider heroes are people I have never met. Billy Arjan Singh - creator of Dudhwa National Park, Rakesh Shukla of Voice of Stray Dogs, Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd and  Wendell Berry just to name a few.  And in the interest of full disclosure I haven't really met Phantom, Batman, Ironman, He-man or Tarzan and I consider them my heroes as well.

I was also fascinated by a strange phenomenon I observed over the last couple of days. As the world mourned the loss of a great man and social media exploded with tributes there was also a steady trickle of articles that strived really hard to peg the man somewhere between a warmonger and an ordinary man with no significant accomplishments. This isn't a new phenomenon - all my other heroes seem to be inviting a lot of attacks as well. Between wondering why I was finding heroes in people I had never met and wondering why a few were so eager to kill the hero others see in some people, I found myself toying with Marianne Williamson's words in my head "It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us". Maybe we are scared of acknowledging the hero within each of us. To acknowledge in another may mean we have to face our own light.

Maybe it doesn't matter what the facts are. If a few in our midst can inspire the spark in the rest of us, maybe it doesn't matter if we met them, listened to them or even if the stories about them are true. All that matters is that they inspired us to reach out to our own greatness, even if they never meant to. That makes them heroes. Marianne Williamson again had the right words...

"It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others."

And maybe some heroes even find a way to talk to you after crossing over to the undying lands. I found myself leafing through his book yesterday only to have these last few lines stare at me.

"I do not wish to set myself up as an example to others, but I believe that a few readers may draw inspiration and come to experience the ultimate satisfaction which can only be found in the life of the spirit. God's providence is your inheritance. The bloodline of my great-grandfather Avul, my grandfather Pakir, and my father Jainulabdeen may end with Abdul Kalam, but his grace will never cease for it is Eternal. 

Thank you, Sir, for being my hero.

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