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Painted Brain | When Heroes Fall
We're bridging communities and changing the conversation about mental illness using arts and media.
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  • August 12, 2015

When Heroes Fall

Without a doubt, the acts were repugnant, made all the more so by a man who pretended to be so far above such immoral deeds. And now, as one who admired the man, I’m forced to balance my revulsion of his betrayal of many innocent individuals who trusted him with the honor I still feel for his outspoken messages of hope and love for a people who so desperately need such leaders.

I’m speaking of Bill Cosby, an African-American man with an almost larger-than-life quality that I and millions of others of all races aspired to. And perhaps that was the problem, a problem that Dr. Cosby didn’t create, but one that I created by putting this very human man on a pedestal too great for any man. What Bill Crosby did was wrong. I feel as if he lied to me. But now I’m faced with the greatest truth of all: he’s only a man. He’s only a man, with flesh and he bleeds red blood and he feels happy, sad, angry, desperate, proud, and right now, I’ll wager that he feels horribly alone and as forsaken as a human can be.

Yes, what he did was wrong and he fell from grace as have we all. It’s not my job to ask anyone to forgive him. If one of the women he’s accused of violating was your daughter, would you be able to forgive him? Perhaps in time, you could. Perhaps never. As for me, who am I to judge?

Men and women become heroes to many of us – until they fall. Then they become humans again. But who made them heroes? Them? Or us? Superman can fly faster than a speeding bullet, he’s more powerful than a locomotive, and can leap skyscrapers at a single bound. But show him a green rock and he couldn’t out-wrestle a crippled crab with a crutch! Is it his fault that kryptonite is his weakness? My father, God bless him, was usually a good man, until he got a few drinks in him. Then he could be a terror. In fact, he was actually more of a terror when he was sober because when he was sober, he was an extremely angry, violent man who took out his frustrations on me more than anyone else in my household. I think it was because I was the opposite of everything he was as a boy that I found little favor in his eyes. Still, he really tried to be a good father and although it took me many years to believe this, one day I was finally able to see this and I think that was what led me down the road toward forgiving him, which I have and I can feel it deep in my soul that he’s grateful for this, even though he’s no longer in this world.

Part of my therapy involved forgiving the ones who hurt me so greatly. In some ways, this wasn’t nearly as hard as forgiving myself. It was so easy to look at the things others had done to me, but it was just as easy to forget the things I may have done to others in my pain and misery. Things that may have been small to me may have been big to others. I’ve always had what’s known as a “tongue that could cut steel,” a little something I picked up from those who raised me, the very people who sharpened their tongues on me. I can say things that could either result in me getting my ass kicked from here to Jupiter, or worse, crushing their spirit. I’ve crushed spirits, and for this, I am ashamed. And, I have forgiven myself for this because there’s nothing else left to do. Because of the faith I’ve chosen to follow, forgiving myself is an absolute requirement, there’s no way around it. And today, my new job in life is to encourage people and not only is it a job I love, but I believe I’m quite good at it. There are people who are annoyed at my constant encouragement at times. All I can tell them is, you’ve got my full support and encouragement!

We live in a physical world, and as such, there’s always going to be friction. Something, or someone, is going to be rubbed the wrong way. It’s unavoidable, even with those you love and would even lay down your life for. Peter once asked Jesus, “How many times am I supposed to forgive my brother? Seven times?” Jesus smiled, rested His hand on his shoulder and said in effect, “More like seventy times seven.” He’s right, you know. Except for some of us, it’s more like eighty times eight! Maybe you and I would never do what Bill Cosby admitted to doing and that’s an excellent thing. But it’s all based on individual perspective. There are women and men who have brutally assaulted, their parents and children murdered, and though it took some time, have been able to move on and maybe, if not fully forgiven the perpetrator, are at least willing to consider it. Sometimes, this is the best we can do. Then there are people I know who will attempt to sue entire companies because they lost a quarter in a vending machine. They’ll go on for days, weeks, even months convinced that there’s a nationwide conspiracy against them all for the purpose of cheating them out of twenty-five cents. They will never forgive the manufacturers of this machine or for that matter, even the property the machine is on. And if you think I’m exaggerating about such people, think again! The point is this; how can we expect to live in a world where things and yes, people, won’t always live up to the standards we believe they should live up to when most of us can’t even live up to the ones we place on ourselves? What Bill Cosby did was more than just arrive late to a friend’s birthday – he violated the trust and the innocence of people who did nothing but honor and respect him. He let them down. And in doing so, he let himself down. And now they’re all suffering the fallout. But in our rush to judgment, let’s not overlook that we’ve all been let down at some point in our lives – for many of us, let down in such a devastating way that it altered our lives – and that we, too, are guilty of letting down someone in our lives, perhaps not to the same degree as Dr. Cosby, but pain is pain and it doesn’t matter if it’s a small cut or a stab wound, it’s going to bleed. What can we do? Heaven knows I don’t have an answer, not even one for myself. But perhaps we can start by lowering that pedestal a bit and giving our heroes the right to be human beings.

John Chavis is a member of the Painted Brain and frequently writes about racal issues for Painted Brain News

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