Be warned, this is going to be a bit rambling, as posts go.
Fact is, Jim Cornelius did a post, on his blog Frontier Partisans, about heroes, and our need of heroes as we grow old.
Old, mind you, not older.
George Carlin was right – we grow old, and we better learn to deal with it.
Jim’s post is a worthy read – and it got me thinking.
About heroes, about growing old, and how my heroes have changed through the years, as I grew old. If they changed at all, of course.
Now, when I was a kid, after we had spent our infancy dreaming of being cowboys or astronauts, most of my friends wanted to grow up to be James Bond. I would have rather liked to be Henry Palmer of I.P.C.R.E.S.S..
A little later, my friends decided they’d rather grow up to be Tom Cruise in Top Gun. I wanted to grow up to be Sam Shepard in The Right Stuff.
Or Indiana Jones. I would have settled happily for being Indy, thank you.
And this is interesting, because apart from different individual choices, we all had heroes that were older than us.
Oh, mind you, we all enjoyed Tom Sawyer, or The Three Investigators – we were offered characters and potential role models that were our age.
But quite simply, our most cherished heroes were older than us. We wanted to grow up and be like them.
Or be Buckaroo Banzai. That’s another one I consider a role model.
I am often surprised when some friend now tells me the kids can’t “connect” with older characters, and need stories for teenagers, by teenagers, about teenagers.
I find it weird, sad, and a little worrying.
I don’t really know if growing up with older role models really projected my generation into the future, or whether providing only adolescent role-models to adolescents will somehow hinder their intellectual and their sentimental development.
But I find it worrying.
Back to my heroes, anyway.
After all these years, I’d still have a go at becoming Sam Shepard/Chuck Yeager, or Indiana Jones, actually. Or Buckaroo Banzai. Or Henry Palmer.
And I find myself going back to old movies, and the characters played by Bogart, by Cary Grant, by Spencer Tracy.
But as I grew old, I found out I was much more inspired by real-life heroes than characters in movies or books. Maybe it’s only natural, I don’t know.
And I could still make a strong case for Sam Shepard, as a role model.
And in real life, you see, it’s different – I’m no action man, I’m a scientist and a writer (like it or not), and both categories make for the sort of hero that ages nicely.
Richard Feynman and Carl Sagan did not lose their edge with age.
John D. MacDonald and Harlan Ellison did not carry a ‘best before’ tag.
And talking of John D. MacDonald – what about Travis McGee?
He was always on the shadowed side of forties, and I find myself going back to his books again and again.
And then there’s Fritz Leiber, who is God, and whose characters Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser live, age, and die through his stories.
There’s nothing wrong with that.
I also have my small pantheon of explorers and adventurers – Jacques Cousteau and Sylvia Earle, Thor Heyerdahl, Emilie Hahn and Rosita Forbes, Peter Fleming.
None of them was really bothered by old age – they grew old and kept exploring and adventuring, with a smile on their faces.
I’ll never be like them, just as I’ll never be like Henry Palmer, or Fritz Leiber, or Sam Shepard (on- and off-screen).
But it’s good to have these people as companions on the road.
So yes, we need heroes in our old age – because the world is in love with youth, and would have us old men sit in a corner, stay out of the way, “act our age”, don’t make a fuss, leave the stage to the kids.
And yes, the kids deserve their spaces, and their freedom, because there’s no worse tyranny than a gerontocracy.
But when it comes to sit in my corner, don’t make a fuss and stay out of the way… seriously who’s gonna make me?
I never acted my age a single day in my life.
And you, out there?
Who were and are your heroes?
Did you make it at becoming the Tom Cruise of your Top Gun?