—Uncle Ben Parker, Spider-Man
When I went to lunch with Tom a couple of weeks ago, we talked about archetypes of heroes in the movies. I gave it little heed at the time, because I don't believe it applies to his situation, yet I find the idea developing further into something which has meaning for my life.
There are two major types of heroes: the one who saves the day, gets the girl, and lives happily ever after, and the one who comes in to clean up the town and rides into the sunset once the job is done. It is immodest to cast oneself into the role of hero, yet it would be dishonest to claim I've never had such a role to play. Our heroes, ultimately, are who we may be called to be in our finest or darkest hours— we can understand ourselves in them.
The former type of hero is the height of romanticism: a Prince Charming, if you will. His calling, most likely, is to one crisis, to see it through and come out with a transformed life and character. He fights the good fight and goes home to enjoy the rewards of peace.
The latter is a different sort, a Lone Rider. He wanders, often not even knowing why, sometimes haunted by ghosts of the past or a need for redemption. One of the constants of his life is a sense of duty (even if he has tried to hide from it, as he often has). He goes from place to place to set right things that have gone wrong, to fix broken things and reveal hidden truths. While he may not be understood at all times, he is often appreciated for the work he does, for standing in the gap and doing the things he alone can do.
The Lone Rider lives with a curse, however. Once his work is done, he moves on down the road. He has to. There's no place for him in the towns he cleans up. Quite the contrary: once the battle is won, he is somewhere on the continuum between a tool without a use and a reminder of hard things more easily left in the past. The one who fixes the problem has no abiding place once it is resolved. The warrior is an aberration after the war.
If the Lone Rider fails to depart when he's finished his task, the result is pain. He serves his role best when he slips out quietly, and when he does this, he is often remembered fondly and esteemed highly. When he stays, he is, at best, an inconvenience, and at worst, an outcast. No town can offer him a home; no ally can give him lasting friendship. It is the nature of his calling to give what he has to give, then to move on.
Never identified with the first kind of hero, but I am familiar with the second. In my professional and personal life I've continually moved between critical points, trying to be faithful, to clean up the messes I encounter, and to leave things better than I found them. But sometimes I don't want to leave. I want to be able to stay through the victory celebration and after, to enjoy the goodness, to be wanted instead of just needed.
Realizing that my shutdown ten years ago likely involved more factors than I'd previously acknowledged in hindsight. It is hard and good to see, so much that is affecting how I relate and how I experience my own life. I wonder if I can be another kind of hero somehow. I think I have that hope.
Until then, perhaps I need to work on my exits. I've outlasted my welcome more than once, and we don't get to choose these things for ourselves. I know there is a home for me and a welcome at the very end. It simply hurts sometimes to want a greater taste of those things now.
Yet I do have that hope. I do indeed.