If you really want to understand some of what drives me as a person, then this may be helpful – I really, desperately want to be a hero.
The first time I can recall wanting to be a hero is when I was 8, or maybe 9 years old. I was writing an assignment for school – I forget what the assignment was, but I think it was something about our futures and where we saw ourselves. What I remember writing was an obituary, one that said I’d died protecting my wife and children from a criminal of some sort. That was what I wanted my legacy to be when I was 8 – that I’d given my life to protect the ones I love. I don’t know that I ever shared it with my parents, and I don’t know that they’d remember it even if I had – it was almost 30 years ago, after all. But that’s the first time I can recall wanting to be a hero.
As time went on, my views of being a hero changed. When I was in my early teens, reading a lot of fantasy novels, and just beginning to play D&D, I wanted to be like the character I saw as my idol, a character in the original Dragonlance trilogy called Sturm Brightblade. Sturm was a knight – well, really, more like a squire, in an ancient knightly order, and also a part of a group of adventurers. Despite the Knights of Solamnia – the order he belonged to – being highly politicized and somewhat corrupt, he lived by the ancient principles of the order (a code by which, as a squire, he was not bound), and held himself to a high standard. In the second book ff the series, he gave his life to protect his friends, and to help them defeat a great enemy, and he is revered as a great hero by his order long afterwards. Sturm informed a lot of my early views of being a hero, including some of my interest in medieval history, literature, and, well, costuming.
My views on heroes changed as I got older; I got to know characters like David Gemmell’s Druss, Beowulf, Elizabeth Moon’s Paksenarrion, and comic characters like Superman, Captain America, and Cyclops. I kept playing RPGs, because it was the closest I would ever get to being able to do something like fight a dragon, or make a heroic sacrifice to save my friends, and to this day I still play them – and, in fact, in games where I have a choice between playing a good character or an evil one, I’ll almost always choose good – I’ve tried being a Dark Side Jedi in the Knights of the Old Republic computer game, and I felt guilty using force lightning on even fictional people.
In fact, if you ever look around my apartment, there are reminders of my heroic fantasies all over the place – from the Captain America shield hanging on the wall, to the artwork of a man being knighted, to the replica medieval helmet sitting next to my bed; the shelves full of RPGs and fantasy novels, and the collection of Captain America memorabilia scattered all over the place. I even incorporate it into my workout regimen, as I noted in my previous post – I use a sword I originally bought for a swordfighting class at St. Louis University for some of my exercises, and the exercise routine I’m currently going through is called the Hero’s Journey – and I push myself harder than I otherwise would when, instead of just giving me a number of exercise sets to do, it tells me that doing them, even in-fiction, means I fight off a dragon, or save people from a burning village. Part of the reason I push myself as hard as I do is because I’d rather look more like Captain America when in costume than the guy who ate Captain America.
But at 36, as much as I’d really love to fight a dragon, or even just hold the door (and you Game of Thrones people know what I mean), I know that I’m never likely to do that. We don’t live in that kind of world. I’m going into social work because I want to be able to help people who have suffered from mental illness, and be an example to prove that even in the darkest moments, people aren’t alone. Even though I know I could not have stopped my friend Alice from dying, her death haunts me, and I know that I may have already done the most heroic thing I’ll ever do in helping another friend keep from committing suicide herself. My weapons won’t be a shield and sword, but knowledge and empathy (well, unless something really weird happens, in which case I’m prepared).
But that childhood urge to want to be a hero is still a part of what drives me. I tear up (and yeah, sometimes even cry) when I see heroic sacrifices on-screen; I’m not ashamed to say that recently I’ve shed a tear or two for Hodor and John Reese, who went out protecting the people they cared the most about. I’ll keep collecting Captain America memorabilia – and probably dressing up as Cap for conventions and Halloween, too. I don’t think I’ll ever get to fight a dragon, but I think that the desire to be a hero helps to push me to be better, go further, do more. And maybe someday, there will be people who look back and think that I was a part of what saved their lives. I think that’s a legacy I can live with.