Monday, January 02, 2006


"Rember all the movies, Terry, we'd go see,
trying to learn how to walk like the heroes
we thought we had to be, and after all this
time to find we're just like all the rest,
stranded in the park and forced to confess."
--Bruce Springsteen, "Backstreets" (1975)

I had been thinking about the word "hero" lately. Then, my good friend Tony just lent me season one of "The Office," a show I had not seen. Watching the first episode, I was rollin' as Steve Carell shared that his heroes were Bob Hope, Abraham Lincoln, Bono, "and probably God."

When I was younger I threw the word "hero" around a lot more than I would now. When I was 15, I had no problem saying that Bruce Springsteen, Harrison Ford, or Jackson Browne were heroes of mine. No more. Those guys and many more are off the hero list.

I've got some everyday heroes, "regular guys" that I look up to. There's my pastor, John Reed. Flawed to be sure, but the guy is in the business of changing lives. Back in 1996, when we started our church, during some particularly difficult phase wherein our church seemed, to say the least, intangible, I remember telling him: "If one marriage is saved because of this church, if one guy comes to Christ, this will all be worth it." Marriages have been saved. I've seen the unlikeliest humans give their lives over to God. There at the helm, day in, day out, year after year, service after service, is John. That's a hero. There are other men like that in my life. Guys who call me on my crap. These are guys that just love their wives, give of themselves, and make the world a better place. Servant-leaders. Everyday heroes.

Last year I filled out an application for the television reality program, "Survivor" and one of their questions caught me off guard: "Who's your hero and why?" I racked my brain. Jesus was too trite an answer and I would have come off like regional manager, Michael Scott. I almost went with A.A. founders Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, but decided against them. All they did was save my life. Steven Spielberg came to mind. Not because of his films, but because he's adopted children and I think that is one of the single most beautiful acts in the world. He's colorblind too and his efforts to preserve the truth of the Holocaust are admirable. No, Spielberg, can't have the tile of "hero" from me either.

The answer I gave "Survivor" was the Apostle Paul. Formerly Saul of Tarsus, I chose him because he had a changed life, a clear purpose, he persevered against difficult trials, and he knew the source of true happiness. As I wrote on my application: "Paul had learned to be content in any circumstance." If you think about it, being content in any circumstance certainly would have to apply to "Survivor" as well. Consider what Paul wrote in Romans 5:3-4, "We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us--they help us learn to endure. And endurance develops strength of character." That's a perspective I yearn to own. A hero indeed. Who knows, maybe putting down a religious answer is the reason I never got called for the interview? Maybe I should have listed Jeff Probst? But, the "why?" part would have confounded me.

The only non-acquaintance, secular person who has maintained hero status in my life is the actor James Stewart. I had the great fortune of meeting Jimmy Stewart serveral times. I don't mean "meet" in the sense of he took eight seconds to sign a photograph and then, in true Al Pacino fashion, threw the Sharpie over his shoulder. No, I really met Jimmy Stewart. He was a true gentleman and a genuinely kind human being. He used to do these annual relay marathons to benefit a children's hospital in Los Angeles. He was quite accessible too. One of the years, he and his wife Gloria invited my uncle and I to step into their motor home and we heard stories of their travels. He cared about people. Quite the experience.

The first DVD I ever bought was the movie for which he won an Oscar: "The Philadelphia Story" (1940). Stewart's Macaulay Connor, to me is one of the most endearing and enduring film characters in the history of film. Like Stewart, Macaulay was a poet. Stewart's favorite film was "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946). Having just watched that movie over Christmas break, I am reminded as to why. George Bailey taught us that no man is a failure who has friends. I could go on. And, heck, I'm shallow, even if it was just the movies, he's a guy that found himself in a "very interesting situation" with Donna Reed and Kate Hepburn told him, "Put me in your pocket." For a 15 year old boy, that's enough to make you a hero. There's also "Harvey," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "Rear Window," and 80 others.

I'll never forget when Chrisy and I were dating. It came to my attention that she hadn't seen any Jimmy Stewart films, not even "It's A Wonderful Life." Like my Uncle John did for me, I showed her some of my favorites. Watching her view them for the first time was like a maiden voyage for me as well. Knowing his home address, I decided to write Stewart a letter. I told him how it felt to share his movies with the woman I would spend the rest of my life with, I told him I thought he had the best drunk scene of all time, I told him I treasured meeting him years ago, and I told him he was a good man. It actually turned out to be like a five page letter! His personal handwritten response is one of my favorite possessions.

Jimmy Stewart isn't just my favorite actor. Rather, he was an exceptional man. Why a hero? I guess that's subjective, but for me, it's numerous things. First and foremost, he was married to Gloria for 44 years. In all those years he was never the center of a scandal, and, by every account, he was a faithful husband. With his popularity and his dashing good looks, conquests would have come easy; yet, he knew the moral cost such events took on your soul. He loved God. Although Jimmy was only married once, he was Gloria's second husband. She brought children into their marriage. To me, being a step-dad is a special calling. I have a step-dad. In hindsight, I know that he didn't just marry a woman. He took on a son. Jimmy took on two. That's admirable. Stewart was a veteran of World War II. His stint in the Army Air Corps did well for this great country. I value education and Stewart had a college degree from Princeton. As noted by the Jimmy Stewart Museum, "Today visitors come to Indiana from around the world to learn more about his life and career and to see where he grew up and acquired the values he embraced throughout his life: hard work, love of country, love of family, love of community, love of God." He was a good man. Hero.

I'll end with a quote from Clarence the angel: "Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"

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Blogger Mike Pena said...

What a wonderful, moving post. I don't think I ever saw that autograph before--it really is a treasure!

3:58 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

Damn you Doah! You write so eloquently ! Can you just write for my blog so I would sound much more intelligent and thoughtful? Awesome post! One question though...who in the hell is that standing next to Jimmy Stewart in the picture?

4:42 PM  
Blogger Doah said...

Hey, Mike and Tony. Thanks for the props! You make me feel so good Tony and then you stab the knife in! Who the hell is that? Very funny! Are you saying I don't weigh 165 anymore, or is it the grey hair, or the bags? Aw, man, nevermind!

4:52 PM  
Blogger Jon Hall said...

You've got great stories Doah. The concept of the hero is a great one. We all need them, don't we?

10:46 PM  
Blogger Mike Pena said...

" I don't mean "meet" in the sense of he took eight seconds to sign a photograph and then, in true Al Pacino fashion, threw the Sharpie over his shoulder"

That is if he doesn't steal the sharpie.

“Give me a break, Kid, I'll sign it!”

8:16 AM  
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