We have heroes in life, don't we. One of mine is Winston Churchill, hero of World War II, who stepped in and saved England from Hitler and the Nazis. And saved the world from the notion that bullies can be appeased. To me, Winston Churchill was even greater than President Franklin Roosevelt, because Churchill was on the scene, wandering about during the air raids, shaking his cane at the bombers overhead. Winston Churchill was singularly a greater-than-life man.
Closer, another hero was Father Tom Byrne, who was rector of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church during my impressionable teenage years. Father Tom encouraged me in everything about life, including in my view of myself, in ways that my father and uncles did not. Not disparaging them, but it was different. Looking back, in the blood relationship there was some kind of competitiveness at work, which I did not understand all my growing up years, and frankly still do not as I look over the fence at my seventy-eighth birthday; ineffably, a mental competition of some sort, not positive. Bishop Frank Juhan might have been a hero too, but he was too dignified, too awesome to regard that way. But Father Tom Byrne, very much so. I saw Father Tom the final time at a farewell reception at the Cove Hotel when I was 19; he was leaving Panama City for Jacksonville and I was a college sophomore who had decided not to go to seminary and become an Episcopal priest after all. And then I met Father Tom Byrne again thirty years later at a clergy conference at Camp Beckwith, him in his eighties and me not long back into the diocese, wearing my black shirt and clergy collar. He was an influence and a hero to me.
Some of the authors I've read and loved are heroes. Harry Golden, Heinrich Boll, a few others off and on. Anthony Trollope. In his ancient age, beginning with The Invisible Wall, Harry Bernstein wrote a touching, deeply moving series of books about his life. Mark Twain, not so much Huck Finn, but Tom Sawyer. From my comfortable ecclesiastical chair I shouldn't tell this, but Tom Sawyer hated Sundays because his aunt made him go to church, and the worst part of church was the eternal pastoral prayer. Tom knew every word, pause and inflection of that prayer, and when the preacher added a line, or a name, it only extended the blasted thing and drove Tom even more up the wall with the unendingness of it. I know how that is, because I remember Tom Sawyer when our prayers go on and on into name after name after name, and places in the diocese, and ultimately provinces of the Anglican Communion that my rebel mind suspects don't even really exist but are just made up and prayed for to have a go at me. For Tom Sawyer, the saving grace of Sunday church came only with a beetle to watch crawling on someone's hat, or a cat to tease. A dear friend, during the interminable sermons of one of our nevertheless beloved interim rectors, would gaze prayerfully up at Jesus' underarm in the Roland Hockett statue stretched above him. When that beloved interim rector set up his music stand podium at the head of the aisle at sermon time on Sunday morning, you knew we were in it for the long haul.
This is what is known as wandering, eh?
Honestly, another hero appeared this morning, again an author, in a book that Norm just recommended to me. I read the introduction last night before turning out the light. Don't ever skip a book's introduction, if you do, you're not unlikely to miss the very best part. That is, unless it's a book by some theologian, in which case the intro is liable to be as lofty and gaseous as the rest of it. Read his first chapter early this morning before daylight. It's still before daylight, by the way. Film critic Roger Ebert died a couple of months ago. He wrote a book, Life Itself: A Memoir. It's my favorite type of writing, short folksy essays about his life, like those of Harry Golden in For Two Cents Plain and other of his collections. Roger Ebert was a treasure, and his writing, to me, is exquisite. I'm going to read his book very slowly and savoringly, because I won't want it to end. Like it was with Harry Bernstein. And also with Frank McCourt, who was a teacher in the New York City schools, Tis: A Memoir, and Teacher Man. Roger Ebert became one of my heroes today.