Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A-Rod, Freaks and Heroes

Naturally, with the A-Rod steroid revelation and confession, there is the familiar mantra of "we don't have any more heroes" echoing across the media landscape. It sounds rather hackneyed, not just because it is not true but because our tunnel vision through which we look for these ostensible "heroes" has not been enlarged very much since whomever gave us the last fall from grace. We still dismiss or fail to give enough credit to everyday heroes who do not happen to be famous.

But another dimension of day-to-day heroism is on my mind today, and it flows from the X-Men characters created long ago by Marvel Comics and the subject of three feature films this decade (plus another, Wolverine, to come in May).

The X-Men are "mutants." They are blessed--or cursed--with special powers, such as the ability to create ice or fire; carry out wolverine-ish features; suck the life out of people; control the weather; rise from the ashes; and so forth. They are freaks. They go to a special school, live in seclusion once they are "discovered" by Professor Charles Xavier, and in general are quick to respond to opportunities to save the world from Magneto (a fellow mutant) and other nefarious characters.

The hearts of the X-Men are good. But they are different. They are freaks. They are heroes without the honor of bestowed heroism.

The X-Men are fictional, of course, but I wonder whom the "freaks" our in our midst that we have too quickly dismissed as freaks. Maybe they dance to the tune of a different drummer--at work, in the neighborhood, at church, in our family. They are unconventional. They are sometimes offensive. But they are often authentic, and often they are on target. They peel back layers to expose things we would rather not see, force us to grapple with questions we would rather not ask.

They might be heroes. And we might just fail to notice them as we grouse about A-Rod and others whom we attempt to force into that rather narrow H category.

They might be heroes, because they in some sense give us permission to be ourselves. They carve new paths and give us somewhere to explore when we grow restless and stressed and disillusioned with the status quo. They make us uncomfortable, but often--if we are paying attention and learning anything-they make us better.

Take a fresh look at the freak. He or she just might be the missing hero.

And maybe the freak is you. Don't change, because obviously you are needed even if few will admit this to be the case.


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