Funny the World...


May 16, 2000

I had lunch with a friend today. She and I last saw each other two weeks ago in Washington, DC, when we were both there with PFLAG and marching for equal rights for gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered people. We didn’t see each other after the first day and so we were comparing notes on our feelings about the march in general. She brought her photo album to show me the pictures she’d taken (excellent!)

Over the course of the meal, our talk turned to other things and we began to discuss a mutual acquaintance. While I’m basically not into idle gossip, some information regarding this individual had come to me and since it also concerned my friend and some safety issues involving her family, I felt it important to share what I knew with her. Naturally she was shocked. This person was someone for whom she’d had great respect, though she had already been warned once of possible dangerous activity and had previously discounted it. Now, however, the facts seemed irrefutable, having come from several reliable sources.

Ordinarly I wouldn’t bring this sort of thing up, especially not without all the lurid details, but it sparked a discussion about activities of public figures in general and how sad it is for our children and their children that this country doesn’t seem to have any heroes any more. We talked of Clinton and what a shame it is that his legacy for future generations is going to be Monica Lewinsky and we compared that to John F. Kennedy, whose amorous adventures have come to light in recent years, but who was protected by that shield that the media used to give this country’s "heroes." My friend had visited the new FDR memorial in Washington and remarked on the controversy which went on when it was being constructed--whether to depict Roosevelt in his wheelchair or not, the final decision being a compromise, showing a sitting figure wearing a cape which hides all but the small back wheels of the chair. During the years of Roosevelt’s presidency, the media treated his handicap with respect and did not show him in a wheelchair, or with his leg braces.

Ever since Watergate, it seems to be open season on everybody. The dirtier the story the better. We’ve lost dignity and decorum for the sake of the public’s "right to know." Do I really have a right to know every single intimate detail of every single public figure’s life? Do I care? Does it affect how I live my life?

But I come from an age where we had heroes and we looked up to public figures as the best of the best. I like to think that it made me more comfortable living in this country. It gave me pride in my country. My son remarked to me yesterday that his generation (he’s 32) "is more angry than your generation, Mom." I tend to think part of this has to do with the fact that they have grown up without national heroes to look up to and with a cynicism that comes from the constant barrage of airing of dirty laundry in public.

There aren’t even sports heroes any more. I’m not a big sports buff, but we did have heroes. I still get a thrill thinking about Willie Mays and Willie McCovey. Contrast that with the number of big names that have been arrested for drugs or slapped with a paternity suit, or charged with violence and even murder. Where are the heroes? Who does a young kid try to emulate these days? And is that the problem? Are they emulating all the wrong public figures?

I look around me at today’s public figures and I wonder if even I have heroes any more. These days I find my heroes closer to home.

Steve Schalchlin is a hero of mine. A gay man living with AIDS, who travels around the country putting a face to the disease and to homophobia. A man who has worked to make the world safe for gay kids. A man who believes there can be dialog and respect between fundamentalist Christians and gay people, leading to the lessening of hate speech and violence. A man who is quick with a hug, and slow to condemn. I so admire his ablity to engage in thoughtful debate, never backing down, but never rushing to judge someone who disagrees with him.

Dair Rausch is a hero of mine. I’ve known her for nearly 30 years and have often described her as the closest thing I’ve come to a living saint. She works tirelessly to ameliorate conditions for the poor. Her garage is always filled with donations and she regularly makes the rounds of the various shelters in a 20 mile radius to drop off clothes and other items. She has given shelter to people who have had no home and helped them get back on their feet. She works as an advocate for the frail elderly of the county. She and her husband travel to Mexico to donate time to a clinic there. She does all of this with no fanfair, just quietly working on her own. She is a shining example of what it is to be a Christian.

Georgia Griffith is a hero of mine. Born blind, Georgia was the first person to graduate from a "normal" college in the state of Ohio--and she did it Phi Beta Kappa. She majored in music and supported herself teaching music (piano, organ, trumpet, clarinet, French horn, and flute) until her 40s when a terrible infection left her deaf as well. It also affected her sense of balance. After a brief period of feeling sorry for herself, she found a job with the Library of Congress proofreading Braille music scores (and in her spare time took it upon herself to proofread all 9 Beethoven symphonies in Braille because she felt blind people needed to have the experience of playing Beethoven). In her capacity as Braille music proofreader (the only one in the country), she communicated with people all over the world and just happened to teach herself to read fluently in 10 different languages (German, French, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Danish, Slovak and Greek). When funding for her job ended in 1981, someone introduced her to computers and got her on line. For the first time in her life she was able to read a newspaper by herself. Not content to just "use" the computer, she had to learn how it works. CompuServe hired her to administer two forums (Issues and the Handicapped Users forum). Over the subsequent years she supported herself by running seven of the most popular forums on CompuServe.

Georgia’s home is lined with photos of herself with people like Colin Powell (with whom she was honored two years ago), and letters from several presidents, and various awards. At the start of the Clinton-Gore Administration, Gore appeared on Larry King Live and introduced Georgia as an example of what technology could do for people. She was honored by the Smithsonian for her contribution to the world of Information Technology for the handicapped, and her work has become part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian. Georgia lives by the motto, "Find someone who needs help and do what you can." Everyone should have such a hero. I’m glad she’s not only my hero, but my friend.

In this era when national and international heroes are few and far between, perhaps it is important to look around us for local heroes to inspire us and give us not only people to be proud of, but also people we can strive to emulate.

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created 5/16/00 by Bev Sykes