“Never meet your hero” is a microphone-dropping expression.
Whatever happens, you risk being disappointed, they say. Like seeing a peacock up close, heroes just don’t look so magical in the bright light. Sometimes that’s the fault of them being human; sometimes it’s the fault of the stratospheric expectations we have for every dimension of their life.
This is what people say, but you don't have to believe it.
“Hero” here is being used liberally, and not in the “saving a flaming busload of school children” sense. Bruce Springsteen or Sandra Day O'Connor might be your hero. Your distant uncle or your 12th grade English teacher might be your hero. And you might be a hero to someone because of what you’ve done, given, or who you are.
There are only two books by living authors that I read so many times that their authors became heroes to me. The first book I read 35 times when I was in college. When I graduated, I wrote the American author to thank him, but never heard back.
The second book I read more recently, and have reread my notes of it at least 20 times since. I wrote the French author to thank him, but never heard back. After a couple more tries with a couple other email addresses, I got a short thank you.
My family and I were going to France for a conference over Thanksgiving. In spite of the “Never meet your hero” advice, I emailed this man a couple weeks before we left. I asked if he would like to meet for coffee, lunch, dinner, or whatever. He chose the “whatever” option in a very big way.
Day 1. He and his family took us to dinner
Day 2. Took us on his favorite "hidden surprises of Paris" tour
Day 10. Came over to our apartment for dinner and silly laughs
Day 12. Bid us farewell with a "good luck" college present for my oldest daughter
Here’s what stuck me. What I most wanted to talk about when I met him was his book (and others he wrote). I had 40 hours of questions and praise. Yet that wasn’t what he wanted to talk about for more than just a few minutes. He wanted to talk about marriage, delivering pizza (which we both did as teenagers), kids, ups and downs, faith, food, the 1754 French-Indian War, morning routines, board games, bike riding, . . . almost everything but his books, and that's why Alexis Beuve is a hero to me.
He made me meet him not as a hero, but as a person who had a lot of other meaningful dimensions to connect with. He also did so in a very humble and giving way. This had a much bigger impact on me than if we would have talked 40 hours about his books like I had originally wanted. It made the impact of his books on me even greater.
“All actual heroes are essential people. And all people are possible heroes,” said E.B. Browning. This is easy to forget. We forget to cut our heroes slack – hey, they’re just human.
We might also forget that we could be a hero to someone and we might need to be sure we act humble and human.
We might not be a flaming bus-saving headline hero, but we might be a hero to someone we don’t know. Being that humble, connecting, interested person will be your antidote to the “Never meet your hero” warning.
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