Our Highest Need
Instructions to see Larger Type
George Sheehan, one critic has said, is a legend in his own mind. Of course I am. You should be too. Each one of us must be a hero. We are here to lead a heroic life. When we cease to do that we no longer truly exist. Alfred E. Housman described it well; "Runners whom fame outran/and the legend died before the man." What fame? you ask. The only true fame, is the inner celebration of yourself. Nothing else lasts. Legends are perpetually dying. They must constantly be revived. We must always be searching for the grail, never ceasing in our labors, forever on trial for our gift of existence. Susan Cheever writes of her father John Cheever's battle to escape this constant pressure. "To leave behind the torpid stability of the suburbs and the responsibilities of a house and a family and most of all to escape the pressure to continually surpass himself as a writer." Each of us knows those urges. We look to a future where we are free to do as and with whom we please. We look to the time when work and effort, duty and obligation will cease. To a day where we can take our ease and enjoy the fruits of our labors, no longer in contention with the most difficult of rivals-our youthful self. We should know better. The battle is never over. The war is never won. Today's bare landscape is always and ever the arena where I contend with myself. I say my prayers and go to combat. No one else may be aware of this struggle. It does not matter. The hero needs no recognition. The deed is done. The audience of one is satisfied. No matter how much we are aware of these truths, we put them aside. The heroic is too much for us. Perhaps the most searching question anyone can ask themselves is, "Why don't I feel heroic in this life." Few of us admit that what gnaws at our innards is this question of making some heroic contributions to our own or the general good. A young artist who read these lines said, "These words stuck out a new strength in me. They revived resolutions, long fallen away and made me set my face like flint." That strength is there. Those resolutions have substance. That flinty determination is part of our higher nature. We only need read William James to have these qualities renewed with us. "Mankind's common instinct for reality," he writes, "has always held the world to be essentially a theater for heroism." That is the reason, wrote Ernest Becker, we still thrill to Ralph W. Emerson and Friedrich W. Nietzsche. "We like to be reminded that our central calling, our main task on this planet, is the heroic." The universal human problem, says Becker, is the fear of death, and only through a superlative cosmic heroism can we overcome it. "What one is doing to earn his feeling of heroism is the main self-analytic problem in life." "It begins to look as though modern man cannot find his heroism in everyday life any more", writes Beaker. Do not for a minute believe it. Heroism is always available. Through ordinary experiences the ordinary man can become extraordinary. The heroic, said Soren Kierkegaard, had no relation to the difference between one man and another. Heroism means being great in what every human can be great in. So life does resolve down to finding the way we are best suited to be a hero. To find our arena, our event, what it is we do best. My legend will not be your legend. We are about the business of making a unique self. How we can best do that is next on the agenda. The common man reaches excellence by making demands on himself. Our highest need is to be a hero. From our childhood on we want to be number one. As adults we seek some assurance of immortality. We want those we leave behind to remember we were here. The greatest psychiatrists, theologians and philosophers have given us their thoughts on this subject. That need not deter us from deciding for ourselves, coming to our own conclusions, living our own lives. Their words may stiffen our spines, gird our loins and stiffen our faces like flint-but what course we pursue then will be our very own. The hero, if nothing else, is his own man.