If I asked you to describe to me what the archetypal hero looks like; I wonder what you would say? Depending on who you are, and what your reference points are, you might describe a character in a movie. Someone you read about online or in a book, or you may have been fortunate enough to know one or meet one. If I asked you to describe the attributes that a hero has you might say brave, strong, fearless, and triumphant. There is something so powerfully connective about the story of “The Hero’s Journey” that the same formula has repeated itself throughout the mythology of nearly every culture in the world. If you are not yet familiar with the writer and philosopher Joseph Campbell, and what you are reading right now interests you; take a deep breath and google him because he is going to blow your mind apart and give you some fundamental truths to rebuild it.
If you consider for a moment the movies that seem to stand the test of time, that have amassed the greatest following, they all seem to share the formula of The Heroes Journey; Star Wars, Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter, the Matrix, and Lord of the Rings. The premise is timeless. Our young hero is awakened to a journey to answer a calling. Along the way the hero encounters a guide, a teacher. They study or apprentice, face his or her fears, then slays or transcends them returning wiser, and sharing what they have discovered.
It is, as I mentioned, the universal story that unites us in our individual and our collective consciousness, the soul’s journey if you will. Yet it seems the world we live in has begun to erode the ancient story of the hero and has replaced it with an artificial hero, essentially an inauthentic hero. The self-proclaimed hero or heroine, who we are consistently presented with, appears to be he or she who shouts loudest, the one who is swift and agile with the put down (this is truly evident on Twitter and social media generally). These so called heroes have already accomplished their mission. There is no journey of the soul, they are already there and they know best. They are the champion and they will tell you so with every opportunity they get (insert name of musician or reality TV star of your choosing). There is no search for the Holy Grail for them; they have a house full of grails. Several grails in fact, each one better than the last and as for pulling swords out of stones; well they can do that too. In fact they do it every morning before breakfast and so on and so forth (insert name of politician).
You may have also noticed the media seems to present a very narrow bandwidth of what a hero looks like. More often than not they all look the same, give or take a nuance here or there. They are most often white, male, cisgendered, young (no older than 40 if a woman, older if a man), handsome in a main stream media approved way. Rarely, if ever, is a hero presented as a person of color, disabled, gay, or transgendered.
Why is this?
Authentic heroes are as varied as every single person on this planet, and yet you wouldn’t know it if you believed everything the media told you and showed you.
I could, I suppose, end my rant there. I could put down the metaphoric pen and walk away, waiting for the end of the world. However, the bearers of hope, the teachers, the ones who shine the light, often come in the forms you least expect. Look at Yoda or Gandalf for example. The first part of the lesson begins when the hero recognizes the teacher and is willing to learn. They disregard their ego that tells them this is not what my teacher, my mentor should look like, be like.
Continuing with the theme of storytelling, are you sitting comfortably? No? Yes, well do the best you can and I shall begin by telling you a true story of a real life hero and teacher. He is brave, strong, fearless, determined, resolute, and compassionate but it doesn’t stop there. He is kind, generous, likeable, non-judgmental, and insightful. It seems to me impossible to spend time in his company and not be aware of how magical he truly is.
Ian is my cousin. He has deep blue eyes, golden red hair and a smile that seems to reach passed his eyes encompassing his whole being. Ian was born with a physical and a learning disability but in no way is he defined by this. He has, at every step of the way, refused to limit himself; he has defied every voice that said he couldn’t. The metaphor of the hero slaying the dragon, couldn’t be better represented than by the stone dragon that lives tamed in Ian’s front garden. In fact you have to walk past it to get to the front door, a powerful metaphor indeed.
So the hero of this story, who rides his wheeled chariot, or walks aided but with a strength vigor and determination that is very much his own, discovered laughter at the age of ten. Ian then embarked upon his quest (his grail quest), to pursue the nature of laughter. His quest has taken him all over the world to meet the funniest people and the people that he most admired clowns. Much like the young Luke Skywalker, Ian has his own special gifts, (he is contagiously funny, passionately loves animals and music) however he has also apprenticed and learned and studied his craft.
He is every hero that faced seemingly impossible odds and didn’t give up. He is Jack that slayed the Giant, the young Frodo on his quest with the ring, he is Harry Potter.
Pablo Picasso said “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”
I know of no one in my life who better exemplifies the true meaning of the hero on The Hero’s Journey than Ian.
He heard the call, he answered the call, he subdued the dragon (remember our hero has a way with animals, so he probably whispered to it) and for 30 years he has traveled throughout the world on his metallic steed. His trusty wheeled chariot playing the fool and teaching the world how to laugh, how to love and how to truly listen.
Ian is my hero, who is yours?