All Of My Heroes Have Been Dead Men Dept.


I'm at about the age, I think, when most of my childhood heroes begin to die off.

This isn't something you notice all at once. No one departure sets off the alarm bells. But one day, you look around, and the emptiness of the room, the dents in the couch where fine company once sat, resonates with you like a struck bell. Fixtures of my childhood imagination, like Moebius and H.R. Giger, are gone now. Men and women who gave my life direction and purpose in adolescence and early adulthood — Roger Ebert, Akira Kurosawa, Kurt Vonnegut, Nan Robertson, Stanisław Lem, all nothing but names now. Former employers, childhood friends, family members.

They are all now nothing but a double handful of cold earth. Two dates separated by a dash.

It's the fate of every thinking being to confront death — death in the abstract, death in the specific, and finally death itself on its own terms as they themselves die. When those you admire die, it's like one of the stars coming unplugged. A piece of the world that you steered your life by can no longer be counted on. After enough such losses, you question the wisdom of ever having steered your life by any stars to begin with, but in time you realize just as everyone ends somewhere, everyone also has to start somewhere. You need heroes in your life of some kind, and some of them are likely to be living beings.

Meaning, in time, you have to learn to lose them.

But you have to learn to lose them anyway, because there's no hero worth having that's not also worth growing past.

It took me painful time and seemingly endless iteration to grow past my own literary and personal heroes — how to become someone that didn't always feel in their shadow from the moment he rolled out of bed. It took time to stop wanting to be this author, or wanting to see the things that painter saw, or finding just those turns of phrase that this comedian had.

Nobody gets out from under something like that all at once, of course; you have to see the damage it does to you before you can ever back away from it. You can pretend, very easily, that you're not just holding yourself back, that you're trying to learn as best you can from your chosen examples.

But nobody does this by clinging to the thing they venerate. You have to put distance between yourself and the venerated thing, so that something truly yours can emerge from that gap. Everything else is just ... well, necrophilia, isn't it?


Tags: death hero psychology




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