I met my hero last night.
He didn't look like Arnold Schwarzenegger or any of the action "heroes" one sees in movies. He is short, bald, and black, and no longer young. He's never been in the military. He can't fly, or leap tall buildings. He works in one of the lesst popular jobs in the United States, being a United Sates Congressman.
And to my mind, he is more a hero than anyone else I know of. He is John Lewis, Congressman from Georgia.
I saw him last niht at a reception, shook his hand, and he kindly autographed my copy of his memoirs, Walking With the Wind. A simple interaction, yet I left feeling energized, excited, and with a profound sense of the sacred that comes from being in the presence of one who has lived to his fullest potential and lived a life of service to others.
John Lewis, if you aren't aware, was one of the leaders of the Civil Rights movement. He joined that cause in his late teens, and risked his life many times for justice, using peaceful means, even when his peace was met with violence. If you haven't read his memoirs, I highly encourage it... it is a story more thrilling, more uplifting, than you'll ever find in Hollywood epics.
Another hero of mine is the Dalai Lama, and the two men have a lot in common. They have fought with the tools of peace, with love and compassion for their enemies, yet able to look upon the evils of the world with clear eyes. They never give up on love, on peace, on compassion, or on justice. They must have known incredible levels of pain, yet through faith and persistance they continue, retaining their capacity to live, to love, even to laugh. They are of different faiths and different ethnicities, influenced by a man of yet another religion, the Hindu Mohandas Ghandhi, and seem to believe in the capacities of all humans to be part of creating a better world. By being who they are, they help us to believe in these things as well.
They are rare, but they are not alone. The story of the Civil Rights movement is full of heroes, of extraordinary men and women from all economic classes, all levels of education, of more than one race, coming together to fight for justice through peace. Fanny Lou Hamer of Mississippi is one of my favorites... a woman who never had much in terms of material goods or education, yet showed immense courage and dignity in the struggle for civil rights. I'm sure the Dalai Lama could tell amazing stories of Tibetans meeting oppression with courage. Desmond Tutu, another hero, must have story after story of courage and hope in the fight to end apartheid.
In a world of bitter wars, endless partisanship, so much hatred of those who are different in race or politics or class or religion or culture or nationality or sexual orientation, it is to these people that we must look for inspiration. I remember looking forward to the new millenium with such hope that it would mean the turning of the world to something greater than we have ever known. With people like these as our heroes, we can still reach the dream.