“I’m your huckleberry”
I love this movie. It’s called Tombstone and unlike that Kevin Costner Wyatt Earp movie that came out at the same time, it is very entertaining. It is well documented that I love movies. I love the magic of spending two hours completely enthralled my characters and events that are pure fantasy, even when that fantasy is loosely based on historical figures. Of all the films that I have enjoyed during my life, there is a small family of films, recently included was Tombstone, that hold a special allure to me. They have earned a place of honor in my life such that even if I have the movie on VHS and DVD and the movie happens to come on t.v., I can’t help but watch it. Most of these movies are from my childhood. They are the old war movies I used to watch as a kid on Saturday afternoons like The Dirty Dozen and The Great Escape. They include the Disney movies like Jungle Book and Peter Pan. They include the vast collection of Batman films from the original relaunch featuring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson to the entire Christopher Nolan reinvention , however this does not include that George Clooney slop fest Batman and Robin because it was just awful. And of course they include the Original Star Wars saga and to a slightly lesser degree the prequels that followed, proof that this is about the films I loved even when I recognized that they weren’t as good as they could have been. This may seem like an eclectic mix of films to hold in such high regards and I had never really been able to connect them before. But as I am in an introspective mood this morning, I think I have found their common thread and that which connects them to me. It’s about heroes.
I am not sure if it was because of the era that I grew up in or if the truth is that everybody regardless of age feels the same. Personally I have always sought out heroes and like most people the search for them took me into the world of entertainment.I remember spending Sundays as a child watching old reruns of shows like The Lone Ranger and Tarzan. These heroes were without flaw. They were brave. They were noble. Their reputations were without reproach. I held them in the highest of regard and then I started to outgrow them.
The ones that I chose to replace them as I grew older were never as brave, as noble, nor as pure as the ones I had as a small child. This is probably due to the fact that the world that I was growing older in was showing itself to not be as pure I believed it was when I was young. But luckily for me, I lived in a time when there were some real life heroes that I encountered in my life and this did a finer job at giving me hope than any fictional character ever did.
My mom was always looking in on elderly people that she knew and helped take care of. To a small child this was, at first sight, was a random collection of strange old men and women who dressed well even when they weren’t going anywhere, used to grandest of manners ever to strangers and spoke often about vague concepts like honor and appreciation. As we lived in a world where kids were never left home alone, I accompanied my mother on these visitations. And as Mom performed simple household duties, I would sit there and talk to the elderly citizens which we visited. They enjoyed having someone young to talk to and they told me these great fantastic tales. It was not until I grew older and recalled these tales that I learned who these people were. They were heroes.
There were the pair of brothers who survived the sinking of the Titanic, by being given the spot on the lifeboat that their mother let them have instead of her. There was the century old woman who told me tales of her father’s time as a Civil War soldier. Even the least senior of those we visited, barely in their sixties, told me of battles in places like Iwo Jima and Bataan. These stories served to do more than just entertain me, they formed a new set of criteria as to what qualified as a hero. It was from that point on that I searched for my heroes, not on the television nor in the theater but rather in everyday life.
Still, occasionally there would be a hero from the larger realm of celebrity that would fit all my requirements and unfortunately one of the greatest on of these passed away yesterday. His name was Neil Armstrong and he was everything a hero was supposed to be and more. I was born 3 years after Neil became the first man to step on the moon, but had the good fortune to live in a time and in a state where astronauts were not relics of a history book but rather where the most popular answer to “what do you want to be when you grow up”. I even attended a high school named after an astronaut who had perished during the Space Race. Armstrong was brave and noble and the embodiment of the power that science had over our dreams as children. He was the hero we never outgrew, not because of what he did but because of what he didn’t do. He never cheapened his image by showing up on a game show or some ill-advised sitcom role. Most importantly, he never tried to cash in on his fame by trying to sell a veggie steamer or indoor grill. When he retired from NASA, he continued to be a hero. He became a teacher, and when that career was finished he quietly drifted off into his own quiet world of solitude. His passing is truly sad in that it was preceded by the death of that which made him famous, the American quest for manned space exploration.
Although my need for heroes is something that I thought I would have grown too old for, the truth is that we need heroes now more than ever. I still have them, and I still need them. However, the ones I now choose are far more terrestrial and far less famous. They are the teacher that promises to challenge the kids and open their world. They are the extended day worker that treats your kids like they were your own. They are the state trooper who despite not getting a pay raise in three years, still does his job with professionalism and valor. They are the friends that treat you like family and the family that acts like your friends. They are the mom that is devoted to finding a way to let her allergic son have a normal life and the mom who despite the pains she has had in her life greets each day with hope and a smile. And they are my kids, not because of the heroic deeds that they have already done…
But the heroic deeds they are yet to do.