Gary Freed is a retired CPA from the Phoenix area, an old friend, and the man who stood beside me when Ms. J and I did the “until death do us part” thing almost 27 years ago. He’s a proud grandfather, my only retired peer, and my first guest blogger. Thanks, old friend!
In a Mark Rubin Writes blog entry he congratulated the many graduates of college this year, which got me to thinking. Besides the obvious socialization and technical education received, what class or classes did I attend in college from which I took away something that served me well in my life? This concept was particularly of interest in light of my perusal (the original meaning of studying in great detail) of Mark’s work, which demonstrates a well-read and highly thoughtful individual. I immediately thought of freshman English and a course entitled, “Existentialism and the Absurd Man.” Not to bore you with too many of the details, but the course covered the works of writers such as Camus, Kafka, and Sartre, and caused us to read such works as The Metamorphosis and the Myth of Sisyphus. The concept of existentialism, based on my memory of the course which I took 40 years ago, is that there is no such thing as free will and the acts of any individual rarely outlive them and provide no benefit going forward. Now, there may have been more to it, but that is what I took away.
The most important grade in the course was from a term paper/oral presentation where each member of the class was required to identify a figure and assess them as a hero. The concept was that if there were individuals who were actually heroes, then maybe there was in fact free will and there was more to life than just pushing that rock up the hill (Sisyphus reference). Maybe those individuals made a difference and lived on in others. The selections of potential heroes ran the gamut, but a few stuck out. One was Hugh Hefner (I don’t think so) and another was Herbert Hoover. The latter was funny as half way through the oral presentation someone asked how Hoover had time to be President and so much more, all the while being the head of the FBI.
I chose the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to assess as a hero and I don’t think I ever knew so much about a person as I did about him. He met the criteria as a hero even though it was clear from my research that he was a flawed man. Criticism included that he had affairs and even bailed himself out of jail while his presence was still needed in jail, but he truly met the criteria in my opinion of a hero.
Of course, using the criteria developed during this course, my 40 subsequent years of life have resulted in very few heroes for me to “worship.” Three to be exact. First, MLK, without a doubt. I had an opportunity to pay homage to this hero early in my professional career, when the City of Mesa electorate voted down a MLK holiday and a group of us incorporated a not-for-profit organization to celebrate an unsanctioned MLK holiday event, which included a parade. It was a very difficult first event, wondering if some sector of Mesa “conservatives” might take offense to us marching down the sacrosanct Mesa streets celebrating the life of MLK. I know some who feel that his mere philandering discredits him and removes him from hero status. Not I!
Next was Sandy Koufax. Why Sandy? After all, his background and that of MLK are as different as night and day. I chose Sandy as he did one thing that I focused on and thought was very important to me and, I believe, to many others. It seems that Sandy was not a particularly observant member of the Jewish religion, but he chose to not pitch on Yom Kippur out of respect for those Jews who were observant. As one who is well aware of the history of anti-semitism that dates back way too far, this one act places him on my list of heroes. In fact, he is so high on the list that I actually paid to obtain one of his autographed baseballs.
My third and final hero was John Wooden. (What an interesting collection, huh?) As a high school basketball player in the early 1970’s, everything we did followed the John Wooden model. Who could argue with someone with 10 NCAA titles? His Pyramid of Success was a focal point which all of us could learn from. He also wrote nine books, and was the coach called St. John, who never cursed, and was religiously observant. (Well, he never cursed unless you believe “goodness gracious sakes alive” is a curse.) I am in the midst of reading the definitive book on John Wooden, “Wooden, A Coach’s Life,” and have found that St. John was perhaps not such a saint. He was known to ride officials and opposing team members, and was not a particularly fatherly coach. He also turned a bit of a blind eye to certain booster activities. In a word, he was “flawed.” Yet, that does not dissuade me from continuing to believe that he was a hero.
These three men remain, after 40 years, my heroes. I have learned so much from all of them. Each was flawed in his own way. Of course, all of us are flawed, aren’t we? So maybe the assessment of a hero is not as important as the realization that all of us have so much to share and our acts can benefit others and perhaps live on in others. So maybe in some way all of us are heroes? Or at least all of us can be heroes!