Let’s get this straight. I’m not really a hero – I don’t even play one on TV. But if you know me at all, you know I’m enamored – some might even say obsessed – with superheroes. I come by it honest. My mom bought me comic books – she always called them funny books – when I was a kid. They were part of what ignited my passion for reading – and eventually writing (we’ll get to that later) – at an early age.
I’ve always wanted to be a superhero (and I still do, even at my current age of more than 40 years old), but it’s never quite worked out. There’s that lack of superpowers thing standing in the way. But I did follow another dream for many years, and it was superhero-related as well. That thing was becoming a reporter – much like Superman’s alter ego Clark Kent. You see, Superman comic books were some of the first my mom bought for me.
Yep, that was my inspiration for going into journalism. I couldn’t be Superman, but I could be Clark Kent. Looking back, I’ve always blamed my mom for what followed. She really SHOULD have bought me Batman comic books first. I’d be much more suited for the billionaire playboy job than I ever was as a reporter/editor.
Not that I didn’t enjoy being a journalist for a large part of my run. That’s how I met my wife – the best thing that ever happened to me. But when it came to being a reporter/editor, I have to admit that I never lived up to being a hero – and eventually I got out so I could have a real life. Which meant that I was one of the lucky ones – I fell out of love with newspapering WAY before it could fall out of love with me, as it has done with so many in the profession who never seem to get over the rejection.
Later, I served my time in magazine writing and editing, where I learned a hell of a lot over the years. Plus I got lucky. I got laid off. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.
My new secret identity
Now I’m a mild-mannered editor for a major high-tech company, Red Ventures. I help explain insurance. And how to invest your money if you live in Brazil. And how to make sure your small business can get the right credit card. And a lot of other stuff.
I know what you’re thinking – that doesn’t sound too heroic. Maybe not, though I’d argue that each has its place in the circle of life.
But, through RV, I’ve been able to unleash my inner hero. You see, in the past year or so, I’ve taken part in efforts to raise money to fight cancer, ALS, and many other diseases. I’ve participated in an effort to raise money to grant a Make a Wish request. I’ve volunteered for a basketball camp for children with epilepsy, autism, and other problems.
None of that is extraordinary. At my company, it’s very ordinary. All those millennials you complain about not caring about anything outside of themselves, they do this stuff at RV. And they do it not because someone made them sign a United Way pledge but because they truly want to do it.
But in July I got to feel a little special. It happened at the annual Golden Door Summit. Golden Door is another group I work with at Red Ventures. We grant scholarships – full ride scholarships – to high-achieving undocumented students. I mentor two spectacular young women in the program. Truth to be told, they mentor me, too, about courage and determination and optimism. I wish you could meet Maria and Vanessa, and I wish you could meet Keny, Katherine, Oscar, Pablo, Jose B., Lela, Melyssa, and so many other fine young students in the program.
And if you did, you’d realize just exactly how stupendous an idiot Donald Trump is, with all his talk of criminals and mass deportations and everything else. You’d see him for what he is – a disciple not of Americanism but of pure hate. Someone who sees money as power and will do anything to keep his. A real-life Lex Luthor.
I digress. On the Friday night of this year’s Golden Door Summit, the students and some of the mentors and other volunteers gathered at Red Ventures CEO Ric Elias’ house for dinner and frank talk. As the event was breaking up, one of the students, Martha, approached me. I didn’t know Martha as well as some of the scholars – she’d gotten her scholarship two years ago at the same time as Maria and Vanessa.
But she knew me (and not just because, as my wife says, I stand out greatly at RV because of my, er, advanced age): “One of these things is not like the others …”
“I want to tell you something,” Martha said as she walked up to me. “Thank you. When I interviewed for the scholarship, I was so nervous. And you really put me at ease. I was able to get through the day because of that.”
I didn’t realize at the time, of course. All I had done was smile and tell her to please believe we all wanted her to succeed. And treat her with respect and kindness. That’s all it took. I had influenced her life without even knowing it. I was very touched.
The headline for this post is a lyric from a David Bowie song, Heroes. In most places, he sings, “We can be Heroes, just for one day.” But in one place, he sings it the way it is in the headline. We can be heroes, forever and ever.
I found out when I was talking to Martha that I could be a hero. In my own small little way. Without even realizing it. And I have to tell you. It’s super.