Hero Vs. Hero
June 30, 2011 § 2 Comments
Guest post by Grete Bauder.
When I was little, one of my biggest heroes—though I mightn’t have said it—was Jane Goodall, the anthropologist. My 6th grade science teacher remarked it was the first time he heard my voice in class: I answered a question about her.
I remember thinking she was absolutely regal. She was intelligent, not fussy, looked so nice in pictures, and got to be famous for being quiet. I was very shy, and all I wanted was to be recognized for simply doing what I did best. Jane sat quietly in the forest, hidden and peaceful, doing the same thing over and over again, observing monkeys. She wrote down what she saw, thought about it. It was smart and interesting, so people noticed.
She didn’t have to jump up and down and say, “I’m the best, the best scientist in the whole world!” She didn’t have to do something gross, like dissect things, and she didn’t have to do something hard, like invent something. I suppose for all the kids who liked to jump up and down or fiddle with things, inventing and shouting would be far preferable. But to me, Jane’s work sounded easy. Plus, I could draw, and just by being patient and understanding, I could be part of a whole ‘nother species’ culture. I could have secrets the whole world would be astonished to hear.
Now, as a (more) grown up, I find myself with a different demeanor and a different type of hero. Now I speak up, speak honestly, and speak my mind–I don’t mind causing a stir. Maybe I’ve lost patience with the world, this world I’ve come to know and love and hate since the summers I spent climbing trees. Maybe it’s because difficult is more impressive and easy doesn’t exist. Maybe because I think now our world needs more repair than discovery.
This summer is the 50th anniversary of the first Freedom Rides down through Alabama and Mississippi. I was struck by Jim Zwerg’s clip on the PBS special’s website:
Jim made a conscious to decision to go where he didn’t have to, where it wasn’t pleasant, and do what didn’t come easily. He went into conflict. He went to make a statement to the whole world: his fate was bound up with other people’s oppression, even though he had nothing to gain from it.
Jim didn’t observe, he let himself be observed. He got hurt, he got hospitalized. It was hard. Jane’s accomplishments were slow and steady. Jim’s was a punch in the face. He wasn’t in the quiet forest; he was in the raging urban jungle. He was peaceful, but not hidden.
Little me idealized the quiet life and accomplishment through intelligence. Now I’ve learned to value outspokenness and accomplishment through courage.
But wait—maybe my heroes aren’t too far apart after all.
Jim sat on a bus for long hours. Just waiting there. Then got off in Birmingham. He didn’t say a word. A person with no fuss, who has since faded into the woodwork of life. Jane has since taken up the cause, and spoken out on behalf of the natural world.
To me these two embody opposite ends of the spectrum, but they’re actually whole people. I forget about that. You don’t have to have one or the other. They aren’t. So I guess, I’m allowed to like both, maybe even be both, too.