Saturday, 2 August 2014

A letter to my hero

I recently learned of an interesting writing opportunity. Having seen a tweet about my Boules! post St Wilfrid’s Hospice asked if I’d fancy participating in a blog challenge for them. The Hospice does such fantastic work – and has such excellent ‘vintage’ shops - how could I refuse?

“Your challenge is to write a letter to your hero and publish this on your blog. Be it a superhero, a literary favourite, or simply your own personal hero; we’d love you to share the story behind them, why you look up to them, and the difference that they have made to your life” said Kathy.

That got me thinking.
My hero? Do I even have one?

The word ‘hero’ is so bandied about in Western culture that anyone can be called a 21 st century hero. The car wash people at Sainsbury’s are Heroes according their trolley branding. Some friends of ours exclaim the heroic status of their children for undertaking the simplest of tasks. Football players’ headlines frequently include the moniker and I’ve even seen it applied to non-entity celebrities ‘battling’ addiction or ‘overcoming’ reviews from less-than-encouraging critics. We are swamped with costumed superheroes in cinemas and on TV, all action and violence together with improbable physiques and a two-dimensional moral stance. I don’t look in any direction to these creations, let alone up.

To my understanding, a hero is a positive role model I can aspire to emulate. Clicking to the excellent website, pretty much confirmed this thought. The earliest English usages mentioned are late 14 th century: a “man of superhuman strength or physical courage” (from the Latin) or a “demi-god” (from the Greek). By the 1660s, a hero is a “man who exhibits great bravery” and another century passes before we see the first record of the term ‘hero-worship’. I’m sure the action must predate the word by many previous millennia! It is not until 1955 that a completely different ‘hero’ is revealed. The people of New York give the name to a particular type of sandwich, perhaps because, as with much American food, it is huge, or perhaps because its name is rooted in the Greek word ‘gyro’. Now, I am partial to a Pret A Manger New Yorker on Rye, but I’m not sure St Wilfrid’s mean me to write an ode to one!

My personal search started in the most obvious place for me, in a book. I’m currently listening to a biography of Claudette Colvin. A black teenager in 1950s Montgomery, Alabama, Claudette quietly protested bus segregation months before her more famous counterpart, Rosa Parks. Both women were undoubtedly heroic and I admire their calm, firm resolve. One personality aspect appeals to me, but I am not convinced either could be my absolute hero. The same is true of others I have found through books: Corrie Ten Boom, Dr Hawa Abdi, Mary Anning and Beatrix Potter. All astounding women indeed but not quite who I am looking for. I appreciate learning women’s stories, global and historical, the details of their lives adding more resolve and strength to mine in an incremental process of gaining pride in my gender. Much of my school education only taught male accomplishments because Women Didn’t. I am now learning that Women Most Certainly Did, and frequently with small children in tow. The difference is simply that their stories weren’t told.

Sports people are another popular source of heroes. I admire Jess Ennis and have often wished I could run like Tirunesh Dibaba. If only this damned apathy didn’t keep getting in the way! Long-distance walker Ffyona Campbell is probably my favourite candidate for a sporting hero. Strong-willed and with incredible endurance, reading of her walk across Africa was a definite turning point in my twenties. I’m not a record breaker, but I know I could do impressive-for-me distances if I trained and tried.

Maybe I should try looking closer to home. My Mum taught young children for decades in a deprived area of Brighton and her example inspired at least one friend to become a teacher too. As a talented pianist and Musical Director, Mum gave any number of amateur theatricals the courage and confidence to stand on a stage and sing. Many fondly remember her infectious enthusiasm and her bellowing at them from the orchestra pit! This is the root of my love of theatre but performing is not a path I kept to. My desire to travel comes from my father’s family. My paternal grandmother took up an amazing opportunity in her youth. A trained nurse from Northumberland, the young Madge Tait travelled to Kentucky to join the Frontier Nursing Service – a band of intrepid horse riding midwives – in the 1920s. Should Madge be my hero? I too enjoyed horse riding in my youth! Our imminent caravan travels are a diet version of Madge’s adventure and immersing myself in another culture is tremendously exciting.

So do I have a hero? Spending several hours considering my potential heroes has been fascinating, but I still can’t settle on one individual. Each candidate considered triggers thoughts of another inspirational role model. So I guess my letter to my hero will need to be the following

Dear Hero,
Thank you for your life and for inspiring the people who know you and know of you. I haven’t found you yet but eagerly anticipate that discovery, in the meantime being buoyed by the search, my own journey and everyone else I am lucky to meet along the way. Yours, Stephanie Jane

This September, St Wilfrid’s Hospice is holding their very first Hero Walk. Reimagined from their much loved JimJam walk of previous years, the Hero Walk will see hundreds of people from the local community descend upon Eastbourne’s beautiful seafront for this 10km (or 5km!) challenge dressed as, or walking for, the hero of their choice.

St Wilfrid’s want this to be the biggest event of their fundraising calendar this year so please get involved. If you’ve got a blog, a Facebook page or even a Twitter feed, write a letter to your Hero. Send the link to St Wilfrid’s so they can have a read and share their favourites online. And if you’re inspired by Ffyona Campbell too, or just love dressing up, why not join in the Seafront Walk!

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