The death of a hero, the loss of a mentor

Brooke J. Freundschuh, Editor-in-Chief

A hero doesn’t die when they pass away. Lots of people have dead heroes like Kurt Cobain, Princess Diana, Martin Luther King Jr. or Abraham Lincoln. Plenty of people claim their deceased parents, grandparents, siblings or friends as their heroes.

A hero dies when you watch someone you trusted, admired, respected and learned from turn into someone unrecognizable. When you have every bit of faith that when faced with adversity, despite your differences, they’d make the right choice, but instead you watch them make the wrong one over and over again. Their choices don’t just affect you, but everyone around you. Sometimes you watch your hero do a “good” thing, but it’s invalidated by how many people they hurt and lied to to get there.

A hero of mine got sick about a year ago and died last fall. They are alive and well, and I’m glad. I’d never wish for them to endure any physical harm whatsoever. The worst I’d ever wish on them would be for them to never be put in another position that grants them the opportunity to abuse their power and hurt others the way they did.

I’ve always been quick to love, but slow to trust, but when I do trust someone, they have my devotion until it’s no longer ethical to give it to them anymore. I’ve found that when you grow up insecure about how your family feels about you, you look for family in every friendly face you meet, and that really brought me to my knees this time around.

When you take on a position of authority in which people are beneath you, younger than you, less experienced than you, vulnerable to you, look to you for advice; when you’re a teacher, a coach, a preacher, a leader, a mentor, you gain the potential to be the most dangerous person in the world. Anyone who wants to be in any position of authority should have this branded into their soul before they go in.  They should repeat it over and over in the mirror every day before they interact with others. If you can’t handle that responsibility, deliver pizza.

I know it is human nature to make mistakes. Heroes make mistakes, too. Everyone makes mistakes. I’ve surely made them.  Pedestals are high. Heroes don’t die from a single mistake; they die when so many mistakes are made that the people who defended them can’t find it in their right mind to do so anymore. They die from lack of accountability and ignorance.

This person made me think a lot of people were stupid or delusional, but really those people saw the bad in them before I did. Now, when given the opportunity, they will convince people I’m stupid and delusional. That’s the cycle, but it can be broken.

There is abhorrent danger in blending feelings and formality, and when someone is found guilty of doing so in a harmful way, they will use the same feelings they harbored themselves to attack the accuser’s validity. Don’t listen to someone’s life story and empathize with it, relating it to your own, while also making them feel like you alone can make or break their future. It’s too great a burden. One can’t rule an empire built on loyalty and feelings until the fairness in their dealings is questioned. Don’t sign your business contracts in blood, then burn them when the hounds start sniffing.

To my former hero and mentor:

You really let me down, and even if it means nothing to you, it should. You can laugh if you want, but know this:  I knew the good in you, and I hope you find it again before someone else gets hurt. It took me some time and therapy to realize that I spent years trying to make you proud, but I realize I was always playing in a losing game. I never would have been enough.

I have grieved losing you when things have gone well for me and when things have gone poorly for me every day since you’ve been gone. Although there’s still a part of me that hopes you’re proud of me, I’m proud of me, and that’s all that matters.  You will always have a hand in who I am, personally and professionally, because of the influence you had over me in the years I found myself as an adult. The difference is that when I realized people were looking to me for help the way I once looked to you, I couldn’t let them down.

Thank you for teaching me to question everything and reminding me that I’m compassionate, yet strong-willed enough to know what’s right and stand up to anything: including you. I’ll never forget it.