We live in a world in which no one can be a hero anymore. There is always something problematic about those who are admired by others. There is always a past, a mistake, a misstep of one sort or another, a major sin perhaps, or something for which forgiveness cannot be offered. The problem with putting people on pedestals is that they are human; the pedestal can break, and the bones come crashing down into dust.
It is understandable that sometimes people cannot let go of their disappointment or deep hurt. It is an incredibly difficult thing to do. As an adult survivor of childhood sex abuse I understand that the adulation of Kobe Bryant upon his death can feel jarring. He was accused of rape in 2003. Although the case against him was dismissed when the victim would not testify, he settled with that victim out of court. Are we supposed to just forget that now because he and eight others died tragically?
For me, as difficult and complicated as it is, the answer is yes. I believe in the power of forgiveness and while I understand it doesn’t work for everyone, it was essential for me to move forward in my healing from years of abuse. I also believe in redemption, in the idea that people can change and learn from their mistakes, and even their worst sins, and become valuable members of society. This doesn’t mean that I’ve forgotten what happened to me or that I believe it was okay; it simply means that I believe that humans are capable of spiritual evolution as much as physical evolution. I believe that all of us are worthy of love, even those who have traveled to very dark places. Those individuals may need even more love than most of us.
None of us are without fault. How can I ask others to forgive my past offenses if I hold on to all the offenses against me, if I hold on to offenses against others whose stories I do not even really know?
This is incredibly difficult. The last day I have been torn about Kobe Bryant. I believe we give too much adulation, fame, and wealth to sports (and movie and music) stars simply for doing their jobs, and those who have a natural talent at those jobs we elevate to superstardom. Is it deserved because they bring greater wealth to the team owners, because they bring a championship to a city in some form of tribalistic competition? It is hard to acknowledge the tragic death of a superstar while still recalling the terrible things that person may have done in his life. It is especially hard when that superstar also did a lot of great things in his life, perhaps as a form of penance for those moments when he did not live up to his elevated status. Heroes have more moments when they are human than when they are heroes.
What I keep coming back to is this: Heroes come from the same families, cities, and culture that the rest of us do. They are as human as we are, and every one of us has failed at one point or another or often–but that doesn’t mean we cannot redeem ourselves. If a person has paid for their sins, if they have turned their life around and contributed in positive ways, can they be forgiven? I cannot say that I have done no wrong in my life. I have also done many good things. When I die, is it fair to hold my humanity against me? I believe that if we are to do that to others, then all of us fail in the end.