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When your hero dies

Tiger Woods will remain tight-lipped about what happened at 2:30 in the morning one night last week. Whatever happened, he'll take the truth of what he can remember to his grave. The rest will be shrouded in mystery, except for one thing: a hero died.

Tiger changes the game. He gets people to do things they normally wouldn't, and if you can do that, you can become famous and rich pretty quickly. With those blessings comes the curse of living life in public where juries of peers don't apply. After all, you don't have too many. Instead, each action is scrutinized by the court of public opinion.

And for a while, Tiger held his own. My public opinion admired the heck out of the guy. Relentless devotion to a series of goals is admirable; following through and actualizing those goals is legendary. What he got, he earned. Decisions and sacrifices were made and by watching him, I had hope that anything was possible, especially the ability to keep it all in sync.

When I watched Tiger Woods, I thought it was possible to be the best in the world at something, earn a billion dollars, get married, have children, and continue to excel at nearly anything you tried.

And then a car wreck turned into an affair. And what we all thought was a diamond turned to dust with some TMZ reports and a citation.

Even if Tiger Woods isn't a hero of yours, you've had your heroes die on you. You've been let down and cold shouldered by those you thought were close. You seen people fail who you held in high esteem. Your estimation of perfection was revealed as anything but when upon further inspection you saw cracks and blemishes you wish weren't there.

And you can never un-see it.

Maybe we value people too much and have unrealistic expectations of what anyone - not just celebrities - should be and do. If we didn't aim so high, the shattered pieces of our broken hopes wouldn't have so far to fall and crash so loudly when they hit rock bottom.

But we can't live in a world with small hopes and no heroes. Something about our human-ness demands that we idolize or honor someone who stirs our soul to the point of unspeakable elation and motivates us to live better. We need to have heroes. We need someone better than ourselves to show us how to be better than ourselves.

A high school friend lost his grandfather over Thanksgiving. For my friend, his grandfather was heroic, but not perfect. As far as I knew, his grandfather could do anything and was a model for living a worthwhile life. And even though his grandfather died, his hero still lives.

Therefore it's not that we set our expectations of heroism too high; it's perhaps that we put those expectations on the wrong people. It's okay to respect and tip your cap to Tiger Woods, but don't model your life after his. Forego fame and fortune and exchange those fleeting sirens for a relational heroism that only comes when you admire someone up close and learn from their failures and their successes, like my friend did from his grandfather.

Modifying a line from The Dark Knight, we either die a hero or live long enough to prove we're not one. In the most ironic of accomplishments, the minute we stop trying to be a hero - to be perfect - is the moment we can become the best one for somebody.

Therefore, it's better to kill our heroes than to not have them. And it's better to find the right ones who live in such a way as to tell us they're not one. That's how we know we've chosen one wisely.

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