The Nature of a Reluctant Hero

Nature of a Reluctant Hero. Image used under Creative Commons.A few years ago (has it really been that long?), I spent a lot of time putting thoughts together here on the nature of a hero. Those conclusions still spring to mind for me occasionally, and, given some recent events in my life coinciding with just finishing a Green Lantern novel that I picked up on vacation last summer, it came to the forefront again.

The novel isn’t the best I’ve read, but O’Neil does, by the end, give us a compelling (though somewhat non-canonical) telling of Kyle Rayner’s beginnings as Green Lantern. The story begins slowly, but the author is giving us a very important point by the end.

In the DC Universe (pre-New 52), Kyle Rayner was the second Green Lantern on earth. He is given the power ring by the last surviving Guardian after the original Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, goes crazy and retires when he is unable to save his home city from destruction. The Guardians have vanished, and Rayner, a struggling graphic artist with little drive or ambition for anything in particular finds himself, without explanation or instruction, in possession of what is arguably the greatest source of power on the planet. Rayner now wears the mantle of one of the most formidable heroes in the DC Universe.

You can see where this gets interesting.

And, while it moves slowly in places, O’Neil does well at extensively relating Rayner’s internal dialogue as he struggles to first understand his power, and then to decide if he actually wants anything to do with it. The short answer is that he does not. Whatever aspirations he might have held, none of them included placing others’ good before his own, rushing into danger in order to protect others. This just isn’t him, not a position in which he has ever envisioned himself. Yet, now he is confronted with something bigger than himself, something outside of himself.

Quite literally bigger in this story. When the rest of the Justice League vanishes, he is the only one left save reality from destruction. As the story progresses, Rayner makes numerous choices to move beyond himself, to act sacrificially to save others, others who aren’t always even human. He doesn’t begin a hero, but becomes heroic in how he handles the responsibility that is thrust on him.

The author’s moment of brilliance, I think, in this novel comes just before Rayner embarks into the final epic conflict, when he tells the Guardian who gave him the ring:

“I’m a hero because you gave me something heroic to do.”

When I’ve talked before about the nature of a hero, I’ve frequently arrived at the conclusion that there is a decision point in many of these stories. Given a set of circumstances, how a character handles a choice determines whether or not that character becomes a hero or becomes a villain. When Rayner is confronted with a huge responsibility, he doesn’t run away, but chooses to embrace it, despite the fact that he does so clumsily and against his own instincts.

This is one of the most accessible aspects of the nature of a hero because it is something that we all face at some point. While we will likely experience this in a small way, we will be confronted with a responsibility that we didn’t choose and that we don’t want. Our reaction speaks to our choice to become either a hero or a villain in our own story. The reaction is never easy, the choice never without repercussions. It is always, however, necessary.

The inspiration to make the heroic choice is why these characters give us so much.

Image attribution: JD Hancock under Creative Commons.

Data-Driven Mystery

There’s a phrase…I’m certain that you’ve heard it…that says something to the effect that magic is simply science that we don’t yet understand. The underlying premise of this statement is that we can explain everything if we try hard enough, if we think logically enough. This is a premise that leaves no room for the unknown, that makes failure to understand something wrong, perhaps even difficult to forgive.

I’ve been really drawn to the fact that Marvel’s on-screen adventures, both large and small, have began to explore paranormal characters of late, largely because these characters are in such stark (pun only slightly intended) contrast to the technology-driven and scientifically altered characters that have dominated the broader audience’s exposure to these heroes to date. Part of the reason for my affinity toward these paranormal adventurers is that they are a metaphor for something beyond the physical, a deeper part of our existence that is outside of what we can measure, touch and feel, something so far removed from my profession.

As Lewis told us, the physical part of our world is only a part of the whole, and so much less real in so many ways than the spiritual.

When I was young (read: I’m totally still this way), I used to love post-apocalyptic stories in which science and magic co-existed in the world that had emerged from the ruins (think the world of Thundarr the Barbarian, as an off-the-cuff example), because they symbolize the truth that the physical and the spiritual work together, complement one another. Without either, humanity doesn’t work. To abandon one, or to minimize one in favor of the other, is to set the stage for us to be less than intended. As much as I love my toys, I’m reaching the conclusion that technology ultimately leaves us empty, because it focuses exclusively on the realm of the physical. Technology is our own finite creation. We’ve built it, we can know everything about it. Technology leaves us in the role of God, but pre-supposes that we are gods over a tiny kingdom that appears to us so much larger than it actually is.

Working in technology is creative, don’t get me wrong…as creative as any of my other pursuits. I get to write code that builds some really cool things. Technology, however, takes a poor view of mystery, because mystery implies something that we do not understand. Software can’t (or at least shouldn’t) be released with things that we don’t understand, so not understanding is weakness. If mystery remains in a project, then it is removed and replaced with a different approach that does not contain mystery. Technology is physical, and not only can it be quantified and measured, but must be. The spiritual cannot be. It must leave room for mystery.

Mystery, in technology, cannot be permitted to exist. Interestingly, we view technology as an extension of our lives, lives in which we thus have a perceived need to measure and quantify everything. We don’t want to permit mystery anywhere else, then, either.

Yet mystery is beautiful, because it helps us to understand the limits of our own lives. The fact that our control is illusion, that we are not, in fact, gods.

Because when we understand that, we begin to recognize that there is something so much bigger than us, something beyond our physical world, something that we cannot measure. What we don’t know is as beautiful as what we know, because what we don’t know leaves room for belief.

And belief leaves room for faith.

And faith leaves room for us all to be so much more compassionate, understanding, and…human…than we currently seem to be. I’m sure we can find data support that.

 

Layered in Snow

Layered in SnowA few weeks ago, before an uncharacteristically warm few weeks in New England, I was driving home on a route that had been my evening commute for some time when Karen and I lived here previously. As it was still winter, there was a good deal of snow still piled on the sides of the road…I’m guessing a couple of feet, or so…when I stopped at a traffic signal on the final stretch of my drive home.

My drive home now is nearly identical to my drive home then, and, as this particular traffic signal takes a bit longer than one would expect to change, I have often found myself observing the surroundings on either side of the intersection. I did then, and I do that now, and those snow banks sparked memories for me.

I felt as though, even after having been gone for two years, that our old lives were hibernating in that snow, suspended somehow as though we had never been away. I had been so homesick for this area for our most recent two years in the South, and, upon our return this summer, we fell so easily back into the rhythms and routines that had marked our lives before we left.

I can remember when Karen and I first explored this town. We drove around, looked at an apartment, had a picnic on the common and discussed if we could live here. It was small to me, but there was something about it. We took the apartment, and stayed. When we knew this summer that we were moving back to New England, there was very little discussion…indeed, almost the assumption…that we would live here again. In our short time here, there was so much about our family that solidified in my mind. Somehow, it felt as though that would all just resume when we returned.

Except that so much has changed in two years. Our daughter isn’t as young as she once was, and Sunday afternoons of Daddy-daughter time watching Kipper and Thomas the Train aren’t so much her speed at this age. She’s moved on. I’m not working the theatre gig I worked on weekends when we were here previously. We have two children now, not just one. Our faith community no longer holds a service on Saturday nights. And those are just the differences that I immediately noticed.

Life isn’t static. It doesn’t sit still. We can’t just resume where we left off, as much as I would sometimes like to do so. Because it’s not as though Karen and I didn’t experience some really difficult times when we lived here before. We did. Like most of us, though, I tend to hold on tightly to the positive memories and lightly to the bad, a coping skill which lets nostalgia get the better of me.

So, I guess I’m only doing what all of us do, walking in that dissonance between knowing we can never return to the past while still holding onto it in the knowledge that it shapes who we are in our present. Those years weren’t as glowing as my memories would have me to believe, but each of their combined experiences, good and bad, have come together to make me who I am now at some level. All else being equal, I would much rather walk in this dissonance than forget that past altogether.


I walked downstairs to the kitchen for a lunch break last week. Our youngest was down for a nap, Karen was working quietly on a project, and our oldest daughter, as though in a flashback to weekends of two years ago, was laughing joyously at an episode of Kipper.

And I smiled.

Perhaps we haven’t diverged quite as much as I thought.

Image attribution: niXerKG under Creative Commons.
Quote

Continuing the Christmas Season

“Was there a moment, known only to God, when all the stars held their breath, when the galaxies paused in their dance for a fraction of a second, and the Word, who had called it all into being, went with all his love into the womb of a young girl, and the universe started to breathe again, and the ancient harmonies resumed their song, and the angels clapped their hands for you?”

-Madeleine L’Engle

Analog Holidays

Do you think about New Year’s resolutions in advance? Maybe I’m alone in that. I tend to consider them before Christmas of late, not because I want to craft resolutions that I know I can keep (although the temptation is great there), but more because I want to give some consideration to what I really want to accomplish in the new year.

So, if you’ve been reading here long at all, you know some of this back story, and the back story is that there’s a story…a novel, in fact…that I started before our first daughter was born. That was back when the writer in me took precedence over most everything else in my free time, and this story was something that I really wanted to tell.

I still want to tell it, but life sort of got in the way for a few years. I changed careers, I went to work for myself, we’ve moved too many times to count, we’ve had a second daughter who is now only days away from being a year old. All the while, pacing in the back of my mind like a large cat wanting free from it’s confines, has been this story, desiring to get out. I want to tell it…and other stories, as well…but the only outlet for words that I can seem to find time for is this.

Really, though, this is a symptom of the problem. Writing, at the end of the day, is the result of ideas, and one can’t have ideas if one doesn’t have time to think. Thinking often requires peace and quiet for me, or, at the very least, time to read and reflect and let my thoughts formulate into something that can become coherent. And to have ideas, I need other outlets. Every creative is this way, I think…one creative pursuit feeds another. So, the problem-solving with code that I do in my professional life does, in fact, feed my creativity because it’s a very creative pursuit, but I also need some other things, lest I begin thinking exclusively in arrays and methods with no hope of recovering any prose from the inner workings of my brain.

Knowing this as she knows everything about me, Karen surprised me with something for Christmas that I’ve been wanting for a very long time: a drum kit. It’s an electronic kit, one that I can play with headphones without disturbing children, and perfect to get myself back into practice with something that I loved years ago.

Putting the kit together was contemplative for me in an odd sort of way. In my high-school days, I could put assemble and disassemble a drum kit in my sleep, just as I was proficient in hanging lighting equipment and handling audio gear in the theatre. Lately, because my days seem to revolve around a keyboard, I have lost my patience with manually assembling things. This makes assembling a drum kit a remarkably spiritual experience in that it’s an exercise in patience-building. Who knew?


Something else that Karen and I have been discussing lately, and that sort of require assembly, are traveler’s notebooks. They have a devoted following of users, and we began watching videos from users who invest significant time and attention to customizing their notebooks with inserts and accessories. At first, I thought that this was a novelty for which I wouldn’t really have use. After all, I could count on one hand the number of times in a given week that I actually pick up a pen. The more that we considered it, however, the more attractive an idea it became. I suddenly could picture this permanent repository for my reflections, my ideas, my inspirations.

So, I opened my new traveler’s notebook this Christmas.

Analog holiday gift: a traveller's notebook

What I don’t want this to be is a materialistic thing. I’m not looking for retail therapy. I want this to be something that contributes to our (Karen is planning a traveler’s journal adventure, as well…she’s particularly enamored with bullet journaling) spiritual development.

As I wrote my first collection of ideas in the journal on the same morning that I’m writing this, I found myself slowing down. Hand-writing takes longer, after all, and the action of it seems to force a deeper consideration of the words being recorded.

So, I guess I’m shifting to a more analog way of doing things in my free time. Perhaps this was inevitable as my working life is entirely in the digital sphere. Hopefully, next year, I’ll be writing here about all of the positives that this change has brought about.

Happy New Year to you all.