Tuesday, March 10, 2009

When Heroes Have Human Heartaches

My current celebrity obsession, Neil Gaiman, and my longest-term celebrity obsession, Guy Carbonneau, both suffered very unhappy losses over the past few days.

You may not know that for over a decade I have maintained the unofficial website of famed NHL player and coach Guy Carbonneau. Approaching 400 pages in size, it is a genuine online biography of a man who, to my mind, epitomizes the heroic sports figure. I don’t post to it much anymore, but try to keep it up to date at least.

So last night I had to update with the sad news that after nearly three seasons, Coach Carbonneau of the Montreal Canadiens had been fired.

Obviously I’m the last person who will say it was deserved. And you, my usual readership, are not the demographic to care for a debate over that issue. But I will mention that several weeks ago, Canadiens GM Bob Gainey was saying the hiring of Carbonneau was one of his wisest moves. And just last season, Guy contended for NHL Coach of the Year. I’ll shut up now.

And meanwhile, in even less happy news, as I type this Neil Gaiman is back home in England, preparing with his family for his father’s funeral. David Gaiman passed away suddenly a few days ago of a heart attack. As you may or may not know, Neil has for years been known for blogging about his personal doings (in a tasteful, humble, well-mannered way). How strange it was today to see his blog post and tweets, and watch his valiant attempts at staying in touch with fans while sorrow overcomes him. I was relieved when he informed his readers of a hiatus.

When you idolize a person, it’s easy for your psyche to project upon him whatever imaginative material is of use to you at the moment. When you are lonely, thoughts of him keep you company. When you are oppressed, you may envision him as a white knight, come to the rescue. When you are bored, you may seek him for adventure.

It’s interesting then, when the hard realities of life strike that celebrity, and you are reminded that he is just another human being like yourself. I have lost a job and I have lost a parent. So today what I feel for my two personal idols is compassion and empathy. I may often behave as if they are heroes out of fable, but today I am more than willing to consider them mere men.

And I am all the more grateful to be reminded that these mere men are the sort who deal gracefully, thoughtfully, and sensitively with misfortune. It is these sorts of people, who actually take seriously the fact that others look up to them, who are worthy of genuine (as well as fantasized) admiration.

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