Thursday, November 12, 2015

Heroes and Superheroes

I know that Veteran's Day is important. We cannot forget the sacrifice that countless men and women have made—giving their lives both literally and figuratively to defend and protect our freedoms. But an internal struggle tares at my heart on November 11. On the one hand, I recognize that war and destruction is a reality and unfortunately a military—like our police force—is necessary to keep order and human rights flourishing. And on the other, I am weighed down by the lives that have been lost, the dreams deferred and the physical, emotional, and psychological trauma due to combat and war.

For the men and women who have served past and present, I salute you. You are heroes to many people. Thank you for your service. But it's also fair to admit that not everyone in the military is a hero. Enlisting in one of the armed forces doesn't make you one. I also think it's important to also acknowledge that "hero" is not a word we use loosely. No, the term is used to identify a person whose actions and words speak loudly. Heroes do heroic things....they give and do not count the cost. They put themselves in harm's way for the good of others. They utilize their God-given talents, abilities, and wit to outsmart the enemy. And they give us plenty to talk about.

There are heroes, and there are superheroes. Heroes are the everyday men and women we know who do those heroic acts. Superheroes? Well, they might be more legend than lore. They are both fictional and real. With this posting, I would like to honor both. Which means that I find myself writing, once again, about my favorite superhero. Pardon me, my favorite female athlete: Serena Williams. 

I asked a friend who is a professional athlete "Why does Serena play tennis?" Given who he is and what he does, I was curious to hear his perspective on her career.
"Because she wants to totally dominate," he said. 
I paused. "Maybe." 
"It allows for her to unleash all that aggression." 
I thought to myself, Is tennis the best sport for a female athlete to do that?
Granted there any innumerable ways for men and for women to channel their aggression—some healthy and some aren't. Tennis has proven to be an outstanding sport for Serena to do so. I have thought many many times of sports Serena could play. ...that Serena should play. Perhaps the bigger question is: Are we okay with women having power and strength? Does the female athlete challenge our views on the way we think women ought to be seen or perceived? Can women be aggressive? Should they?

Our conversation took another turn, so, unfortunately, we didn't finish the thought. But I have continued to think about the "why."  Why does Serena Williams play tennis?

The obvious answer speaks to the fact that it's what she grew up with and was destined to do (according to her father, Richard). Today, tennis is a shared activity, sport and lifestyle she values and shares with her parents as well as her sister Venus. It provides a platform for Serena to display her incredible athletic abilities, style, personality (or as she would say personalities). Serena loves to win. I could go on and on, but the more I really thought about it—doing away with the cliches and easy answers, the more I came to one realization. Serena Williams plays tennis because she wants to be a superhero. 

Serena has no time for being an ordinary hero, she doesn't do anything halfway. 
Superheroes have but one name. They do the impossible. They challenge norms and modus operands. The risks they take are far beyond calculation. And they have a message, and here's Serena's: Always keep your things close! Fight for what's right. Stand for what you believe in! Be a superhero! You can read about the incident here.

Her posting, though largely self-congratulatory, was obviously not run through her PR person or communications rep. But, what I love about this story is that the message she shared is one she lives.

When she says "keep things close" I know it's not just the material possessions in your hand. I have written about this idea before. Who or what do you keep close to you? That's an important person, every person—mortal or superhero should answer.

Fight for what's right. Serena has. Some might say her sister is the real superhero in this regard. It is well known that Venus fought for equal pay for female tennis players. Both sisters have spoken out about racism they have encountered on the tour and beyond.

Stand for what you believe in. This might be Serena's most compelling message. Because it's not one that she articulates as much as one that she lives. She believes that she can be the best. 
One of my students shared this story in class because it was not only interesting and local (it happened in downtown San Francisco) but it hit even closer to home. In the spring of 2013, the students at St Ignatius saw their principal in a new way. Already a beacon of personalism and professionalism, Patrick Ruff a hero to many kids took on SuperHero status.

Our school had been robbed of iPads for weeks. Although I want to recognize it's a first world problem, it was real. It is disturbing and unfortunate when anyone has something stolen. It's worth reading about the events and the response here. It made for good stories for weeks. 

Whether real or perceived, legend or lore, our heroes point us to something much bigger than ourselves. They encourage us to lift our eyes off the ground or at least away from our phones. They bring questions to life—How can we prevent war? Can we? and What do I believe in? What should I keep close to me?  And they keep us talking...or writing...

Photo Credits

Veterans Day Quote

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