A few years ago I was invited to Parliament to participate and speak at a “Men’s Health Forum”. It was hosted by Baroness Floella Benjamin. Floella is perhaps the most genuinely wonderful human being I have ever met. The other Friday Christine Anstey, a member at Dunham Road Altrincham, sent me text message telling me that Floella was appearing on “Desert Island Discs”. I listened to her wonderful life story and enjoyed her song choices. What was clear was the deep love and care within her, exemplified by her life. She spoke of her struggles as a black immigrant growing up the 1950’s and 60’s and how she worked hard to develop her career. She has been a campaigner for so many groups of people. She also spoke about being appointed the chancellor of the University of Exeter and how instead of shaking hands with graduates she breaks tradition and hugs every single one. As someone who has received one of those hugs, I have never known a more loving one. Floella is one of those special people who lives by and through love and I believe is a wonderful example of what we can be if we live this way.
Now Floella came to fame as a children’s tv presenter on “Playschool”. Well that very evening after listening to her on “Desert Island Discs” Sue and myself watched a wonderful film “A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood.” It tells the story of cynical journalist going to interview the much loved American children’s television icon Fred Rogers. It is a beautiful film about reconciliation and transformation, as the cynical journalist Lloyd Vogel, who is a new father struggling with his demons, is transformed by the presence and love exemplified in the life of Rogers. Vogel reconciles with his own father who is dying and who abandoned him and sister during their childhood and not long before their mother died. At one point in the film it is suggested that Rogers could be seen as some kind of saint. Roger’s wife Joanne, who like Floella is a hugger, disputes this and says if he was a saint then no one could aspire to live a life like him. I would imagine that both Floella and Joanne must be struggling with being unable to hug folk at this time, but I am sure that they will adjust being the women that they are.
While speaking with Vogel Roger’s exposed his own vulnerability, he spoke of his own challenges as a parent of two sons. Despite the claims of not being a saint it must have been be challenging to be the child of such a person, just as it must have been to be the child of Floella too. They are both icons of millions of children’s lives, so loved. Well it would appear that Floella’s son struggled at times with her fame and because of this she withdrew from presenting and put her energies into other areas. I suspect that she would not have been made a life peer if she had remained a television presenter, but you never know.
Trying to live up to any ideal is never easy, that though should not mean that we shouldn’t attempt to rise to all that we capable of becoming. Although it is important to always remember that even the greatest examples were always human, they had feet of clay. Remember nobody is perfect, we must always be somebodies.
I have had many heroes in my life, people who inspired me. As a young boy they were mainly sporting ones and musicians too. My current sporting hero is probably Marcello Bielsa, “El Loco” or the “Bucket Man”, the current manager of Leeds United, who has brought the club back to the Premier League. That said my heroes today tend to be more of a spiritual nature. Like David Whyte who has inspired me to live on the frontier between the self and the other, upper and lower case. I love the way that he speaks of the “conversational nature of reality”, or Mary Oliver’s cry of the wild geese crying out that I we do not have to be good, perfect, to know that we are loved as we are, that we just have to let the soft animal of our bodies love what they love, we just have to let our vulnerable bodies, no matter how broken, love what they love. Or Rainer Maria Rilke and his urging for patience “with everything unresolved in my heart” that instead of desperately seeking answers to all the questions all I need to do is to “to love the questions themselves.” It is a beautiful lesson in humility and oh so helps me to love the limits of my humanity and to remember that of others too, when we all fall short. It is utter vanity to think I will ever get a full answer to the spiritual questions I ask and seek. That said I know that by engaging in the courageous conversation I will experience something far more than I could even begin to imagine. All that I have to do is to live on the frontier and to live my way into, if not an answer, a new experience. Viktor Frankl’s call to find meaning by living meaningfully has enriched my experience if life. It still blows my mind that whenever I turn in faith to life that meaning continues to emerge, even when experiencing extreme suffering. No one can avoid suffering, but we do not need to know despair, meaning emerges if and when we embrace life and one another. I no longer seek a particular purpose or meaning in something instead I have discovered that by living at the frontier of life that I come alive and I learned a while ago that this is what the world needs, “people who have come alive,” at least according to Howard Thurman.
On Saturday I was out walking the dog by the canal. I passed a man I often see. We pause and talk for a little. We mostly talk about football. He asked me waht I thought about Marcus Rashford and what he is doing "for the kids". I told him I thought it was wonderful to see a young man doing what he could to help those who are struggling at this timer, that he uis wonderful example, that it was great to see a footballing hero using weaht he has to help others. he agreed and then said "I cannot imagine George Best would have done something similar"/ I laughed and agreed.
So these are some of my heroes, I wonder who yours have been, either from your childhoods or now. Who are the people who have or who still inspire you? Do you see them as humans or as saints? Perhaps this is something to ponder and perhaps continue to aspire to in this time of struggle and need.
“When the first Superman movie came out I was frequently asked, "What is a hero?" My answer was that a hero is someone who commits a courageous action without considering the consequences...
Well this one time superman certainly exhibited great courage in the last few years of his life, following the accident that left him a paraplegic. I don’t know if you know this but he became a Unitarian later in life.
Anyone can be a hero; we all possess those qualities within us. All we need to do is uncover those virtues within each and every one of us. We have all had to overcome many obstacles of varying shapes and sizes, no life is without problems. Further, we can all do little wonderful and caring things that can change our world a little bit at a time. It begins by recognising that we are special unique wonderful and needed just as we are, something I know that both Fred Rogers and Floella Benjamin have tried to teach so many children and adults throughout and through their lives. Well we can do the same.
It is going to be a long winter for all of us. We will need sources of light to help us through these difficult times. Maybe by reflecting on our inspirations it will help us aspire to be the best that can be and in so doing we might just bring some light to those in need, if from a physical distance.
So let’s bring to life the love within each and everyone of us, let’s bring that spirit to life and thus become the hero, the inspiration that we have all been searching for.