“Maurice Sendak, the children’s author and illustrator best known for the 1963 classic “Where the Wild Things Are,” is dead at age 83” (here).
As a child, I had very few heroes. Not because there weren’t any out there, but because I never really grasped the concept of hero worship. An avid reader, I was well aware that heroes were the stuff of make believe. Sure, people have heroic moments. They rush into burning buildings to save strangers, step boldly between an attacker and his victim, adopt children and pets and charitable causes. But all of this seemed so temporal. There weren’t really people out there that put all of their energy into making the world a better place. I grew up as a child in the military. Even understanding the sacrifices that soldiers make, I was too close to them to think them heroes. I saw the very human side to these men and women as well. And really, isn’t that what makes a hero in a child’s mind? They’re something above and beyond the general mediocrity of ourselves.
It wasn’t until much later that I adjusted my idea of hero worship to include people that were as human and mortal as I, but had made amazing accomplishments happen despite adversity. Maurice Sendak was one of those heroes. He was surrounded by death and mortality as a child, part of a family that was decimated by the Holocaust. He spent nearly all of his life hiding his sexuality and his partner of 50 years from his family. He grew to dislike people, to see the world as a weary and sad place, and to want nothing more than solitude. From the outside, he seems like a manic depressive curmudgeon with the unlikely skill to create indelible art.
I think, perhaps, that this is what makes a hero. Despite himself, he created things that we and countless generations after us will remember fondly. And he didn’t just lock them away out of spite. He shared them with the most impressionable of us. Maybe what makes a hero isn’t the news-ready smile and platitudes of morality and self-sacrifice. Maybe what makes a hero is surviving despite the life you were given and leaving a mark that will outlast you. Maybe a hero is defined by his flaws.