Thursday, February 11, 2010


Thursday, February 11, 2010

When I woke up this morning, I thought of Helen Keller, a woman who became deaf and blind as a toddler. I remembered the original version of the movie The Miracle Worker, which starred Patty Duke as Helen and Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan, Helen's indomitable teacher. I lay in bed remembering my feelings of awe and fascination as I'd watched the movie; I would have been about 11, not much older than Helen was in the movie.

At that time, I was intrigued and moved by Helen's level of "disability" and Annie's stubborn refusal to give up on her. Helen's parents and her rebellious brother, James, loved her deeply but were completely flummoxed as to how to help her. Then along came Annie Sullivan. She stood up to Helen's father, the very much in-charge Captain Keller, and turned everyone's lives upside down. Beyond the movie's scope, in real life, Helen and Annie spent many years together, and Helen went on to become a highly educated force for change.

The other movie that impressed me deeply as a young girl was To Kill a Mockingbird, which I've just discovered came out the same year as The Miracle Worker did. Based on the book by Harper Lee, the movie starred Gregory Peck (the first and longest-lasting love of my life, I swear) as another indomitable soul -- Atticus Finch. A lawyer in the southern U.S. during the Depression, Atticus defended a black man who was wrongfully accused of raping a white girl. In the course of the movie, Atticus also taught his kids to resist prejudice and hatred and to follow their own conscience, even against deeply-rooted opposition.

Until this morning, I hadn't thought about the strong influence these characters had on me. Until this morning, I hadn't thought of any of them as my heroes, but I see that they were -- and are -- heroes to me. Their gut-level determination taught a young me about stubborn, challenging determination. They showed me that one good-hearted, bloody-minded person can make a difference to another human being. Atticus, Annie, and Helen demonstrated honesty and open-mindedness and courage at a time in my life when I was hungry to learn.

Before this morning I'd vaguely thought of heroes as being only for young boys, that "hero-worship" was a male thing and had to involve a real human being. I was wrong. Even though I met my heroes and heroines on the silver screen, their choices and actions swept into my gut, inspiring my admiration and making me cry deeply and laugh with gusto. I felt something. I saw something, and I wanted more of what I felt and saw in those stories, those people.

Today I realize how much I have aimed to be like Annie, Helen, and Atticus throughout my life. Today I recognize the value of heroes and heroines as I never had before. They inspire us to reach inside ourselves to find the same traits they display, traits every single one of us possesses but may not know are there.

Who are or were your heroes and heroines? How have they affected you?


Chris said...

Hey Kate I just read about your heroes which was cause for reflection for me, and lethargy, which was interesting to understand the origin of, but has never been a part of my life and selfrenewal of which several of the things you mentioned I do on a regular basis in my life. Great stuff. Encouraging. Thanks for that.

Anonymous said...

My favourite hero is Chief Dan George, his wit,humour and soft spoken voice inspired me to laugh at myself especially while fixated on a seemingly sense of all too seriousness being.

Kate Thompson said...

Thanks for your comments, Chris and Anonymous! I love what I'm doing.