he-ro. 1. In mythology and legend, a person, often born of one mortal and one divine parent, who is endowed with great courage and strength, celebrated for bold exploits, and favored by the gods. 2. Anyone noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose; especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life.
Somewhere in the midst of the endless wisdom of the Buddhists this encouraging, disciplining promise stands forth: "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." For years these simple words and their profound message have been a source of great hope for me, a way to deal with much unreadiness, an opening to many appearings. Then, late last fall, the promise returned in another form and spoke to me as I wrestled with the possible meanings of the imminent appearance of my friend Martin Luther King Jr. in the pantheon of our nation's official heroes.
Playing with the ancient wisdom, preparing for January 20, 1986, remembering his public lifetime—13 explosive years that became a generation of transformation—two variations on the Buddhist theme emerged: "When the nation is ready, the hero will appear." Or, equally appealing to me: "When the hero is ready, the nation will appear." Taking off from such meandering thoughts, the wondering/wandering began, moving across the serrated surfaces of our wounded, immature, and dangerous nation, probing into the painful, magnificent depths of our broken, beautiful country, my country, Martin's country, still-being-born country.
It may just be, brother, as the old folks used to sing, "We didn't know who you were." Or did we? And did we also know that we really weren't ready for any hero like you, and decided that instead of getting ready, we'd get comfortable?