Warning: This post contains spoilers and lots and lots of references to Harry Potter, the Divergent and Hunger Games series, and Marvel Comics. If you are completely in the dark about any of these topics, RUN, do not walk, to your local library and catch up on your Pop Culture Heroes pronto, mmmkay? –Nic
Harry Potter is a Gryffindor.
Tris is Dauntless (technically, she’s Divergent, but she chooses Dauntless, so let’s go with that for right now…).
Katniss is rough and tough, no nonsense.
Captain America goes from being a scrawny nobody to a pumped up superhero.
Ditto the Hulk.
And Spider Man.
Really any Marvel hero, for that matter.
What do they all have in common?
Courage. Bravery. Strength. Fearlessness.
All top qualities of heroes.
But what about those Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs? Or the Amity and the Abnegation? Or Peeta? Or Charles Xavier? Why are they sideline characters in the stories we read? Why can’t they be just as extraordinary?
I am all for the Gryffindor model of a Hero: “You might belong in Gryffindor/Where dwell the brave at heart/Their daring, nerve, and chivalry/Set Gryffindors apart,” (J.K. Rowling, The Sorcerer’s Stone, 1999) That’s traditionally what we see, whether we are sitting through the latest summer blockbuster or reading ancient Greek myths for our Classics 101 course. A hero is supposed to have big muscles, a big sword, and an even bigger personality, right?
Um, not always.
My friends, as a Self-Sorted Ravenclaw, I feel this is a limited approach. “…In wise old Ravenclaw/If you’ve a ready mind/Where those of wit and learning/Will always find their kind,” (J.K. Rowling, The Sorcerer’s Stone, 1999). If Harry had been a Ravenclaw, he would have read every book on the history of magic, have a passing familiarity of horcruxes, figured out WAY QUICKER that Voldemort was coming for him, drawn up a map of recent Voldemort sightings, used that map and his knowledge of history to anticipate his next move, found all the horcruxes really quickly (those riddles weren’t that hard to figure out), and destroyed Voldemort while he was still a weird floating mist of spirit inhabiting other people’s bodies. Harry would still be a hero, but it would probably take just one book, and that’s not really the stuff of literary world domination and theme parks, now is it?
There is no right way to be a hero. People have different skills and different strengths, which lead them to handling things differently. Not everyone is meant to be a Gryffindor, but that’s ok. In fact, that’s a really good thing.
There is nowhere this is more clear than in the life of a Chronic. We can’t all be big and strong. We have to learn to gather our strength from other sources besides our bodies, as our bodies more often than not are our own worst enemies.
Like Tris in Divergent, I wanted to be Dauntless, too. Who wouldn’t? It seems really awesome to be a thrill seeker who jumps from trains and knows martial arts and can handle weapons, with multiple tattoos and a penchant for wearing black clothing in order to appear mysterious.
I didn’t just want to be Dauntless, I planned on being Dauntless. Dauntless is fearlessness, it’s being kick-ass while remaining totally cool. I had Dauntless plans for my life. But Chronic Illness came a-knocking, and it knocked me down quicker than a roundhouse kick to the gut from Four. Being POTSy, fainting, not recovering well from injury, widespread pain and general fatigue are just not the characteristics of a Dauntless.
However, they could totally mesh well with being an Amity (who value working together peacefully), an Abnegation (who value selflessness), or dare-I-say-it, an Erudite (who value learning and knowledge). And you know what? Getting along with difficult people, loving others more than you love yourself, and nurturing love of learning (use it for good, though, people!) are all heroic. You don’t have to shoot a gun or throw a punch to make a difference.
In addition, while I am a fan of the Hunger Games, I have always been disappointed in the description and treatment of Peeta as a character. I LOVED that that kid bakes stuff and decorates cakes, and that he could do camouflage better than anyone because of it. I really felt like he was always being underestimated or undervalued. He had so much untapped potential! While everyone focused on Katniss and her ability to hunt and otherwise be a “strong female” archetype, I continually waited for her to have a less obvious talent the way Peeta did. Even little Rue knew which plants were the antidote to the Tracker Jacker stings in Book 1- she didn’t need six pack abs to be heroic in that situation.
This brings me to Charles Xavier, Professor X of the X-Men. Although he is wheelchair bound, Professor X has one of the best (and most powerful) mutations: he can read your mind, control your mind, move things with his mind, etc. He doesn’t have to be able to walk in order to use his powers to help the common good. But you know what? There is rarely a time (in the comic books at least) where Professor X is out there fighting alongside the other X-Men. They routinely leave this guy at home! Can you believe that? Sure, he can communicate with anyone from anywhere, but really. Wolverine is the one who gets all the glory. Cyclops gets to be in charge of everyone “out in the field” even though his leadership skills tend to vary along with his moods (he is one moody dude).
Why is it so hard for us to see heroism in qualities that aren’t directly related to brawn? Why aren’t we celebrating a greater diversity of characteristics in our hero stories?
This is, of course, a much bigger societal question. But what does it mean for us, on a smaller, every day scale?
If you’re NOT a Chronic: First of all, thanks for being an awesome supporter of Chronics! That’s pretty heroic right there =)
Secondly, the most important thing you can do is celebrate people for the traits they do possess, and stop focusing on what they can’t do. It may take some extra effort, as not everyone’s talents are obvious, but they are there, and they deserve to be noticed.
(Chronics should take note to do this too! We are not immune to focusing on people’s perceived faults, just because we ourselves are often marginalized. Everyone, Chronic or not, has value. Everyone, Chronic or not, has some way they can contribute to the world)
If you are a Chronic: Instead of lamenting how you would be the first cannon blast in the Hunger Games due to your Chronic lack of muscle tone, is there a way you could figure out how to survive with your cunning and smarts? Those kids from Districts 1 & 2 may have trained their bodies since birth, but didn’t you know the island was a clock WAY before Katniss figured it out in Catching Fire? I bet you could figure out a lot of solutions to a lot of problems, from how to unclog the kitchen sink to how to plan an awesome fundraising bake sale.
Hufflepuffs are just, loyal, and patient- does this make you a hero when you are waiting forEVER in your doctor’s waiting room and instead of losing your cool like a Slytherin might, you take a moment to put yourself in the over-worked receptionist’s shoes and cut her some slack? You will definitely be her hero if you do!
Instead of believing you can’t contribute to your society because your run-in with a radioactive spider left you housebound instead of swinging from the skyscrapers of New York City a la SpiderMan, can you print flyers for the local animal shelter’s fundraiser on your computer or join an online peer support network to help others in similar situations?
You have to believe in your own heroic worth before anyone else can.
Please know that I believe in you! I believe that there is more way than one to be a Hero. Now, go out there and save the world, in your own unique and special way! And when you do, take a minute to post a comment here or on my facebook page @ www.facebook.com/iamchronicallywell to let me know how you did!