Sunday, September 18, 2011

Heroes and the Lament of History - Accepting our Heroes as Creatures Inspiring and Imperfect

15. We need heroes and flags
We need heroes.

But the heroes need you
To remember them
As men of flesh and blood.

In this lies their
High station of spirit
And faith.

For they have the ability
To be themselves,

In form and in substance,
In what is apparent
And in what is hidden,

Seeing only the thin gloss of mortality
Upon God’s Own Looking Glass,
Between the Here and the Hereafter,
Between now, and what is promised
To you and me.

THE LAMENT OF HISTORY. History holds so much treasure. In her infinite vault, history contains all our lives, right up to this point in time when you, my discerning reader, are reading this. And just like our lives, history is not all rosy and sweet. And oh boy, have I myself filled history with enough personal follies to embarrass the historians and blush the bifocaled librarians. History is important because if we do not know how we got here, then we lack the knowledge to move forward. There are many aspects of history worth a thousand years of our study, about religion, science, civilizations, romance etc. But for this next hundreds or so words, I am talking about heroes.

HEROES. Heroes in history are like sacred cows that cannot be inspected too closely, questioned or criticized. They become omnipotent presence in our psyche, taking on almost Olympian stature in our hearts. Thus, they become, just like the Olympians, a far-off and can never be reached personalities, ethereal and uncertain.

FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS. That is why when I finally saw the movie "Flags of Our Fathers" (Directed by Clint Eastwood, released in 2006) I was much taken by the raw reappraisal of the historical background concerning the raising of the flag in Iwo Jima. But most importantly, the human individuals that lived the moment, and their moments thereafter. If you have seen the movie you would have witnessed the sheer terror of hand-to-hand combat in the Pacific, the troubling doubts of the soldiers, the wistful dream of almost all of the boys (since they really were young) simply to make it alive and return home, their sudden fame and the personal aftermath of their lives post Iwo Jima. I love it because it took the heroes out of the two dimensional pages of propaganda and patriotism and laid bare their lives. After the movie, I did not think them any less and thought, "Wow... real heroes." Every single one of them.

The above prose was not born from the movie or appraisal of American heroes of WWII. Actually it was pertaining to Muslims and how they conduct themselves in the presence of their historical heroes. They are sometimes (not all the time, to be fair here) too diffident and shy to know about the Companions and Caliphs that came after. Especially concerning the Companions of the Prophet, Muslims in fact know so very little that the Companions become two-dimensional characters, almost like cartoon characters in a comic book.

MR.X THE MAGNIFICENT. I recalled to a preacher man about one personal condition of a Companion, and the preacher man was greatly offended to hear the story and rebuked me. We were talking about sex and how wonderful it is, when I shared with him a little story. The story is simple really, a famous and renowned Companion of the Prophet was someone of such flaming passion and fire, that he gets wet dreams every night. The preacher man was profoundly shocked and immediately advised me that it is forbidden for Muslims to make fun or ridicule the Companions of the Prophet.

Firstly, assuming the story is true (which the preacher man clearly doubted), I swear upon the cup of coffee that I am drinking now that I meant it as no insult or ridicule. For every single story of this Companion, good and bad (for Companions of Prophets are not perfect like Prophets) makes me fall in love with him - a towering masculine hero with a sharp tongue, a fiery passion and a truly, truly amazing Companion of the Prophet. Secondly, how can having a wet dream every night be a bad thing for any man. It is a challenge certainly for the Companion personally, because he would have to perform the complete ablution before morning prayers to cleanse his impure state post wet dream. But other than that? Come on...

You see, that is why Eastwood's movie sprang to my mind as I am writing this post. I think just as we need heroes to inspire us to good, the heroes need us to appraise them as human beings of flesh and blood. Amazing in their personal sacrifices, dedication and virtues... but not perfect. It does not make them any less of a hero to me. In fact it raises their stature higher in my soul. For I know that they are just like me... not perfect. But wow, how infinitely better are they in spite of this very human weakness that we share!

There are certain mores and manners which we should have in addressing historical heroes, that I accept. But if we approach them with love and understanding... how can we go wrong?
Look back with love.
Look forward with love.
Look at everything with love.
And even if the Lord Himself cannot be seen.
By God, He can be perceived!
God bless our heroes, sunshine. And may you have a heroic day.

wa min Allah at-taufiq.

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