“I wanted to save Gotham. I failed.”
“Why do we fall, sir?”
“So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.”
Hero – a term that has no set definition, a word that is so personalized that it has a different meaning even for two people from the same background, with the same experiences, who grew up together. They come in all sizes and types, from the underdog story to powerful and responsible. From the world’s first fantasy hero Superman to India’s favourite cricketing son Sachin Tendulkar to pop star Taylor Swift to just an ordinary mother, the world is filled with heroes, it’s just the eyes that look up to them that differ. They are who people aspire to be, whether it is in fantasy or reality is irrelevant, as they find something in their heroes that they personally relate to. Yet, all heroes seem to have some qualities, phases or experiences that are similar. They make sacrifices, they inspire people, they don’t care about their personal well-being when it’s a matter of doing the right thing and they are ever-ready to give up everything in order to protect something or someone. It can be any of the above that they share but there is something else that each of them has experienced, something that ultimately makes people resonate with their idols, something that is the very essence of a hero.
The conversation right at the beginning is from the first of Christopher Nolan’s legendary Dark Knight Trilogy, between Bruce Wayne a.k.a. Batman and his loyal butler/ friend Alfred which quite aptly puts forward two pivotal stages that make heroes who they are.
Stage One – The Fall
There comes a time in every hero’s life when everything falls apart, when the bridge of everything he stands for crumbles, and he free falls into obscurity, when public opinion about him changes and everyone suddenly turns on him, when he’s all alone, when he hits rock bottom.
Taylor Swift found herself in such a position after her feud with Kanye West completely portrayed her as a hero-turned-villain and she saw millions of her fans turn on her.
When Ben Affleck was tasked to play the new Batman in 2015, there were a lot of expectations that he would take the role to a new level. After all, he was a renowned actor and director at that point which made people feel that he could inspire people through his movies just like Christian Bale did before him. But after Batman vs Superman (2015) and Justice League (2017) flopped miserably, Affleck’s life began to spiral. He filed for divorce from his then wife, a subsequent different relationship did not work out and his alcohol addiction relapsed. Now, no one can confirm that all these things were the aftermath of the flops in his career or that these events were indeed connected, but there was definitively a negative psychological effect on Affleck due to his failure to be the hero everyone thought he was or would be. Disappointing the world and himself was the first crack that would eventually leave him broken. And that is where all of us relate to our heroes.
Every person, whoever they may be, experiences a fall from grace in their life that leaves them feeling like a failure. A period wherein you think that you don’t matter and that this world is better off without you. You drown in the sea of your own sorrow, and when you see a person you thought is larger than life in those same waters, you finally consider him to be human. A person who is not as perfect you thought he was, a person capable of making mistakes. A person just like you.
At the end of the first stage we are where Bruce was when he said “I wanted to save Gotham. I failed.”
We, just like our heroes, have aspirations and dreams which we fail to fulfil and suddenly find ourselves facing a barrier; a ceiling on what we can and cannot do. Most people live enclosed in this barrier all their life, with the fear of getting up only to fail again, holding them back from ever truly being able to stand on their feet. But for every thousand who give up, there is one who is willing to understand and ask himself, “Why do we fall sir?”
Robert Downey Jr. was a young aspiring actor who was touted to have a very promising acting career when he was arrested for being under influence while on parole. He was subsequently fired from his role in ‘Ally McBeal’ and many other stage roles as his drug and alcohol addiction, which he had since he was a six-year-old boy, came back only to haunt him again. He was written off and almost everyone gave up on him. But had he given up on himself like most others do, the mega star we know today would never have existed. But did he? He most certainly didn’t. Instead of lying in his own dirt, he chose to rebuild himself. 12-step programs, yoga, meditation and therapy helped him fight his addiction; an addiction that has not resurfaced till date. He learnt to pick himself up. He has gone onto become a bona-fide Hollywood legend now and Marvel’s Iron Man; also an inspiration to millions, an iron man in every sense. He succeeded in achieving the second stage.
But if you don’t want to look that far to understand this, you can see it for yourself in daily life. In my case, that would be to look at my parents. When I was 4 years old, my father was diagnosed with cancer. At that point, he was excelling in his career as my mom stayed home and took care of me, which for the most part I’d like to say she enjoyed. But just in the blink of an eye, our lives changed forever. My dad couldn’t work anymore. In our Indian society where social stigma resurfaces perpetually, with people asking me, “What does your father do?”, his inability to work killed him from inside every single day. My mother took up a job again, but it was a real struggle for someone with such a long gap due to maternity to restart her career and be a family’s primary bread winner. Not to mention the chemotherapy that my father went through which was extremely painful for both of them. Despite this, my childhood was the best period of my life.
To all those people who asked me “What does your father do?”, I said here is what he did: He got me ready for school every day, he learnt to cook for me, he dropped me to school every time I missed my bus, he played every sport I wanted to play, he watched every game I was a part of, he was there to pick me up after every practice session, he was my Santa on every Christmas, he beat cancer and became a successful investor working from home. He was always there for me, despite all his problems and always made our house a home.
To all those people who never asked me what my mom did, I say here’s what she did: she started right from the bottom again and excelled at everything she did in her career. She worked 12 hours a day but was still there with a ruler in her hand teaching me Math, she ensured I went to the school I wanted, ensured that I went to the college I wanted to, she was there with my dad every step of the way, she taught me how to drive, she was always my tooth fairy, she missed her own birthdays working but always threw me a birthday party, she was always there to hug me after every heartbreak and she let me be the kid I wanted to be. They are my heroes. They are not perfect but they are my heroes nevertheless.
They, just like Robert Downey Jr., hit rock bottom in the first stage but overcame all the hurdles placed before them to transcend into the second stage. The second stage, which is the most fundamental stage to what makes a person a hero, the stage of learning to pick yourself up and breaking all barriers; the stage of picking up the broken pieces of your life and choosing to rebuild it.
The stage called ‘Resurgence’.