People are hard on their heroes and inspirational figures. While many of us would aspire to be a hero, or simply to have one close by, the life of a hero is pretty rough.
In 20 years as fictional lawman of Dodge City, Marshal Matt Dillon (Gunsmoke) was shot 56 times, knocked unconscious a couple dozen, stabbed, beaten, and poisoned. In the early days of the iconic television series, Doc Adams generally extracted the bullet from a convenient shoulder wound, but in later episodes the injuries become more grave. In the episode “Gold Train,” the bullet is lodged along the spine and requires Matt to travel to a special surgeon; Matt is eventually subjected to the violence of a train robbery involving much screeching and jolting followed by a gunfight against a mortal foe while paralyzed and strapped to a board.
My point is that being a hero (even a fictional one) is hard to begin with, but human nature—or at least modern society—always wants to up the ante. Perhaps this is about narrative, as much as anything else: the need for rising action, climax, denouement. In our quest for tension and resolution, though, we sacrifice our heroes to some gruesome fates.
Our more modern “super” heroes have an even more difficult time, having to be at the very least orphaned and stricken with a fatal allergy (Superman), or orphaned, traumatized, and clinically depressed (Batman), but more often genetically mutated and compromised (X-Men, Spiderman), or grotesquely tortured and disfigured (Deadpool)—all this as part of the back story, well before any inciting incident.
I’m hoping that these complicated times will somewhat quell our demands. After two years of pandemic—plus several years of political chaos with increasingly alarming consequences, and our current challenging economy—we may be living a narrative challenging enough on its own. Perhaps now we can see some different traits, and better fates, for our heroes.
I find myself wondering if all of this is part of the outpouring of admiration for everyman hero Ukrainian President Vlodymr Zelenskyy. He is unconventional in the most conventional of ways; he is funny, sometimes even coarse, plain-spoken, and direct; he is not brooding, he is not compromised such that he has to “overcome” himself before he can get to work. Likewise, the Ukrainian people are far from frail victims in need of a superhuman savior; they are bold, brash, imaginative risk-takers, easy to call heroic in their own right. Rather than gasp at their helpless anguish, we cheer on their capable pluck.
But Putin’s war on Ukraine is not a narrative for our entertainment. The Ukrainian people are in dire need of their own and their leader’s heroism—and they are in need of real support from the rest of the world, as well. Beyond a small monetary contribution and planting sunflowers, I am still thinking about what I can do, or what I can suggest for others; we all should be thinking hard, since the outcome involves, literally, all of civilization.
It was Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people who prompted Kimberly and me to choose “Heroes and Inspirations” as our theme for this issue, and we are so very pleased with the response we had in such short order. Irene Kowal introduces us to a poet, artist, and cultural icon so that we may understand the Ukrainian people and their importance in a more nuanced and powerful way. Many contributors pay homage to fathers, mothers, and grandmothers (Naomi Myrvaagnes, Scott Axelrod, Denise Freed, Beverly Bartos Burns). I have included a piece of writing from my own late father, who writes about his father (my grandfather, who died before I was born). Sonia Kowal writes from a professional, as well as personal, point of view on the economic measures that will support Ukraine in the war, and the significance of the war’s outcome on the financial fate of a free world. Bella Cohen’s “Separation” and Kimberly Gladman’s “Shorting the Earth” are fiction pieces that implicitly comment on what an inspirational figure might be; Kimberly again finds inspiration (and Ukraine) in math in her column “Quantslut.” Anne Seiler’s “Juxtapositions” was at my request; her simple collages don’t so much speak as ask, “What do you see?” Some of the images include subject matter, themes, colors, and arrangements suggestive of the current war, but this is manipulated happenstance (Anne and I each have chosen a few that spoke to us in some intuitively driven way). Whatever you see, I hope you find something thoughtful, inspirational, or simply delightful.
I hope these selections inspire thought, hope, conversation, and action. The world—Ukraine and its people most immediately—is in need of all.
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