I moved the middle of my Junior year of High School, from a school with 500 kids to a school six times that size. My first semester at my new school, I ate lunch in the library while I read and reread Story Girl , sometimes I just hid in the bathroom. I was too afraid to face the teeming mass of my peers and the foreign rules that dictated lunch time. Have your friends grab a table first. No one eats alone. No one eats sandwiches. Put your salad in a Tupperware. Don’t bring your own fork.
The first person who befriended me was the youth pastor of the church my parents forced me to attend. The youth group was bigger than my old High School, but he still found time to introduce me to girls my age, who were obligated by Christ Almighty to be nice to me. He even let me start doing Sunday morning announcements, which helped me start making friends and eventually led to me emceeing homecoming with some of my new friends. He was “cool.” He talked about sports and Dostoevsky. I wanted to be like him. Be the person who could make people feel accepted and included. At 17 acceptance means everything and for an awkward 17-year-old who was always just a little too loud, he was my hero.
He was also having an affair with a student. A fact that was discovered the summer before my Senior year. The church quietly replaced him with a middle-aged man with long blonde hair who called everyone “dude” and preached about “the flesh.” It was like one of those sitcoms where they just replace a main character and expect you not to notice.
We noticed. I found out what happened through rumors and whispers. A year later, my parents finally told me what they had been told. But it was too late. I already felt like I’d fallen and hit my chest. My lungs burned. I hated him.
That was just the beginning. 18 was the year that all my heroes fell. First the youth pastor. Then, a series of family members. I had grown up to believe that “the world” was the enemy. 18 was the year that I learned the truth. We are all the enemy. In Jean Rhys’ The Wide Sargasso Sea, there is a scene when Antoinette, the protagonist, rushes from her burning home towards her friend Tia. In that moment, Tia turns against Antoinette and throws a rock at her. While blood rushes from her head, Antoinette watches her house and her childhood burn to the ground. That summer, I watched my life—constructed in the cocooned world of Evangelical Christianity—burn to the ground. My parents taught me that it was the non-Christians and secular thought that we needed to fear. But there I was watching that house burn, while my heart bled.
This year has been a year of crumbling idols. Lance Armstrong. David Petraeus. Kevin Clash. I happens over and over. And every time an idol falls, the world is outraged. “No,” they shout, “how could you? You were a role model!” But my sympathies don’t lie with the outraged masses. My sympathies lie with the ostracized hero.
We build a world of idols made from straw, it’s no wonder they burn. Yes, crimes should be punished. Consequences should be leveled. But it’s a shame that all those babies are outside with all that bathwater.
I am against having heroes. I don’t believe in them. I don’t believe in perfection. I don’t accept veneration. When I hear cries of “She should know better! She’s a role model.” I roll my eyes. Our bipolar society means that our heroes are perfect and if not they become villains, it’s an impossible dichotomy.
So it makes sense that don’t like sheltering Ellis from the news. I know it’s silly. She’s only 19 months old. But I feel strongly she should know the truth about the world. But this morning, when news about Kevin Clash came on, she pointed to the TV and yelled, “MELMO!” I turned it off. I know she doesn’t understand. I still hope he’s innocent. But I didn’t have the heart to let her know that a piece of her favorite thing is tainted. Its a hard line to manage.
I do hope I teach my daughter that no one is perfect. That she should never idolize someone or something so much that there is no room for them to fall without crushing everything and and everyone in the process. That’s grace–embracing life but leaving room for imperfection. But I also want her to have that time of innocence where she believes that life is as simple as good versus evil. But perhaps the lesson that she needs to learn isn’t that heroes fall, it’s that when they do they can come back.