And he’s got be strong
And he’s got to be fast
And he’s got to be straight from the fight
So sings Bonnie Tyler at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBwS66EBUcY
If you’ll indulge me for a moment, this post is about writing and the hero’s arc and the need for a hero, with a twist. It’s on something I learned about writing. That the most interesting heroes you can write about aren’t chiselled jawed hunks in homo-erotic spandex. No.
The most interesting heroes are ordinary men with flaws who can do heroic deeds. And jumping over tall buildings isn’t one of them.
I’ve met many heroes but I always remember the day I realised I’d met one. He was first hero so to speak.
I worked in an office and in a wee corner office there were two men jammed in sharing a desk. They were both small men, hunched and combed-over. Shiny trousers and jackets with patches at the elbows. Grey men. They were the butt of many office jokes.
But through work I got to know one of them well. He did a job that required exceptional concentration and great attention to detail.
One Friday I offered to buy him a drink after work, I was getting married the next day and frankly he was the only one in the office that I’d buy a drink.
Anyway, he limped alongside me to the pub then he took a half pint of heavy beer then stood to say goodbye. He had 5 miles to walk home and with his bad leg it took a him a while, he said. I looked at him, perhaps seeing him for the first time. He had curvature of the spine and his sight wasn’t so good. A National Health hearing aid was stuck behind his right ear.
I offered to drive him home, by way of compensation for keeping him late. He accepted and I got my car and headed to his house. He explained that his wife was profoundly deaf and her eyesight was worse than his. She fretted if he was late. He was the only person she knew in the whole world. As we drove we talked about the latest rumours that the company was downsizing. I was worried because I was about to be married, he was concerned because he had no savings and he needed to support his wife.
We got to his house. A terraced house idential to the thousands of others in the housing scheme he lived in. The garden was neat and tidy, the door was freshly painted and at the window stood a slight woman staring out with a look of worry on her face.
He wished me a happy marriage got out the car and limped slowly up to his house.
I wish I could say I empathised with him, but i didn’t. I was a callow youth with my own worries and a future to get after. But years later I thought about him and I realised that he was, if nothing else, a hero.
Men who swing into battle are not heroes. They have courage, grit and determination. But heroes? No.
People who can endure the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, people who can stoop to rebuild their life’s work with worn out tools. People who can keep their counsel and look after another human being while being ridiculed for things that they have no control over. People who live with their disabilities and still continue to have a life rich in meaning beyond the grasp of callow men. These are the heroes. There is probably one close to you right now.
And so, to return to writing. Writing can be about men who wear their underpants outside of their tights but it’s unlikely to be interesting. Real interest lies in people who are flawed, but come the time they are there for another person. And they endure.
Above all else, they endure.