Can you name your top five childhood heroes? And Wonder Woman and Isis don’t count – I’m talking real, flesh and blood people, not comic book superheroes. I can name mine. In fact I can name quite a few more than five. And sadly, many of them have left us now.
I am keenly aware of this after the passing of Casey Kasem this past weekend. Mr. Kasem was a fixture of my youth. First, because he was the host of American Top 40, which I listened to loyally every week. I had a radio on my bike and I would ride around the neighborhood (whichever neighborhood that was – we moved frequently as I was an air Force brat) and listen to the show. Casey was always there, no matter where I was , a constant in a world where everything was always changing. I could always count on Casey to be my radio friend. And of course, he was the voice of Shaggy Rogers from my all-time favorite cartoon, Scooby Doo. I actually did a paper on him for some school assignment, about how he came from a family of immigrants, and following a dream he never let go of, made himself into a household name. But it wasn’t the fame that drove him. It was doing the thing he loved doing. For the budding writer that I was, that was a message that found a home in my heart.
Then there were the other heroes. Carl Sagan, who was taken from us way too soon. Stephen Jay Gould, who made evolutionary biology fun. Gerard K. O’Neill who taught me that we already had what we needed to make a home in space. Roger Zelazny, who showed me that my weird story ideas were no more weird than his. Isaac Asimov, who was just freaking brilliant in more ways than I can count… Yes, I was an odd child. My heroes were in large part scientists, writers, visionaries. People who saw the world that COULD be, not necessarily the world that was. People who looked beyond what everyone else saw.
Over the years I’ve watched them all fade away, and the world gets a little bit dimmer each time one of them passes.
But I refuse to be defined by loss. So it’s time to find new heroes. Time to find new visionaries, like Carl Sagan’s successor, Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is totally ROCKIN’ the new Cosmos series. But I gotta tell you, it’s been tough for me to suss them out. We are surrounded these days by celebrities but for me, celebs aren’t heroes. So I’ve been finding it hard to hear the voices I’m listening for over all the noise.
I spent a little time feeling old and sad this morning. We all have those moments. But all of my heroes persevered in the face of defeat and I can do no less. So I’m now on mission to look deeper, search harder, and with renewed intent for the visionaries of today – the pioneers of our tomorrows. And I’ll be sure to post my new list when I’ve nailed down at least ten of them. Neil is currently at the top of my list, followed in short order by Michio Kaku (seriously, what is it with me and physicists?), paleontologist Paul Sereno and fellow author Samantha Warren (who has more courage and drive than anyone else I know)…
Who were your childhood heroes? Why did they inspire you? How did they shape the you of today? And who are you finding now to inspire you? Share them here so we can all be inspired! Thanks!
Illegitimi non carborundum!