2012: The year of the fallen hero.

Lance Armstrong had to give back his yellow jerseys. Rajat K. Gupta, (Goldman Sachs director), was sentenced to two years in prison. Closest to my heart, Lama Christie McNally, a beloved teacher and guru of Tibetan Buddhist yoga, was asked to leave a retreat and was later found disoriented in a desert cave with her late husband beside her.

I’m sure there are more. Mostly it depends on what your idea of heroism is and how they can be toppled.

Presidents are probably the easiest targets for this kind of idolatry and misplaced expectation. I remember my mom saying how much my Grandpa Joe worshipped FDR, riveted to his fireside chats, and New Deal initiatives. It was soothing, maybe even necessary for my grandfather to have a visible, iconic hero while he worked tirelessly at his little pharmacy in Ansonia, Connecticut. He worked six days a week, sun up to sundown, seeing his children most often when they came to drop off home-cooked suppers. Mom was so grateful Joe died before FDR was accused of adultery and even anti-Semitism.

These days, as soon as someone hints at being interested in politics, we have a team of investigators and paparazzi ready to sniff out the most incriminating, lewd details about their lives. Still, this is part of idolatry, isn’t it? We want to find someone so squeaky clean that there can’t possibly be disappointment. We want a leader who will charge forward and make America the greatest place on earth. Hurrah!

Don’t worry - I won’t try to sway anyone at the voting booth. (I will just put in my PSA here to PLEASE VOTE.)

And in terms of heroes, this is what I’m learning…

Heroes are (sadly? joyously?) human. Which means heroes make mistakes. I’m not excusing anyone from embezzlement, bigotry or doping. And sometimes too much power or fame can easily lead to immorality and abuse.

However, I see more and more that I play a big role in this game of chutes and ladders. Picking someone whom I think is going to be infallible, and then being devastated when they’re not.

Lama Christi McNally was the one who hit me hardest this past year. Not only was she implicated in some foul play, but reporters were going after her mentor, Geshe Michael Roach, and even the 3000+ year old art of yoga. I felt groundless because these teachers were so important to me and studying yoga and dharma has pulled me out of so many dark whorls. When I am reading about universal compassion and honestly breathing into an asana, there is no space in my brain for OCD.

I yelled at my husband, “Why are people attacking them in the news? I have to write some sort of rebuttal!”

He wasn’t sure that was the solution. He also didn’t know why I couldn’t stop crying.

“Because they were my heroes. And now…”

The end of that sentence was up to me. 

Lama Christi and Geshe Michael are both healing. The practice of yoga, like the Tour de France and the stock exchange, continue to move forward. Whether you agree with how he’s done it or not, Obama has introduced many new approaches to healthcare, economic regulation, and global democracy.

Have these people all acted perfectly? No.

But guess what? They never promised they would. I was the one who held them up as superyogi-investor-athlete warriors who would help me and the world towards enlightenment. It was easier to ask them to carry the torch and be flawless, than for me to be confident in my own knowledge.

There will always be heroes. They rise and fall in stature every day, mostly depending on how we see them.

A true leader is someone who exhibits and even admits his/her faults. We can’t give them capes and magical powers without asking for trouble. So on Tuesday, no matter whom I vote for, I have to remember s/he is human first and foremost. And I have no right to complain about how s/he is failing me unless I’m actively working on the problem too.

PS - A superhero is really just a figment of our imaginations. Not to mention, most of them have some hidden weakness like kryptonite or intimacy that they’re running from and when it catches up with them, all hell breaks loose.

About the Author

Abby Sher

Abby Sher is a writer and performer in Brooklyn, New York, and the author of Amen, Amen, Amen: Memoir of a Girl Who Couldn't Stop Praying.

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