My Fallen Hero

My Fallen Hero

Walter Mitty, (“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber), has been my hero ever since I was a freshman in high school. He could do anything-anytime and anyplace. He was a brilliant surgeon, a fearless Navy boat Commander, a brave war time airplane pilot, and a skilled marksman. He was perfect. I always thought he was a man for all ages. How my thoughts have changed; he is now my fallen hero. Unlike the past, I assume that our American culture would now condemn his imperfection.

Some people would have professional success in any environment. Of course, they might have to change careers, but they would succeed. In today’s world, Ponce de Leon would probably be a plastic surgeon in Hollywood. Sir Lancelot would be Rambo. Long John Silver would be operating a medical supply company selling prostheses and crutches; Cyclops would be operating an optical shop advertising fifty percent off.

On the other hand some careers would not be appropriate considering their past lives. Joan of Arc would not be selling firewood, nor would Julius Caesar have a knife sharpening enterprise. Hammurabi, with his eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth policy, would not understand “six months probation, try to do better, and be a good boy.” I believe he would also frown on a half-way house.

If Mr. Mitty were alive today, his achievements would have surpassed those of Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. Babe Ruth could only play baseball, and Michael Jordan could only play basketball. Apparently Tiger had several talents, but he was no Walter Mitty. Walter could do everything. In today’s world he would be the multi-tasker par excellence.

Walter Mitty was so convenient. I didn’t need a bevy of heroes to carry me through my challenges, singly out one particular hero for each particular deed. All I needed was Mitty, the person who could do everything. In fact, I even believe I became a better dreamer than he was.

“He took one last drag on his cigarette and snapped it away. Then with that faint, fleeting smile playing about his lips, he faced the firing squad; erect and motionless, proud and disdainful, Walter Mitty the Undefeated, inscrutable to the last.” (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.)

Did he die that fateful day, or did he escape the firing squad? I always dreamed that Mr. Mitty escaped, but if he did, what happened to him? I can’t remember reading about any more of his heroic deeds, but then again he wasn’t perfect after all. He was a smoker. If the firing squad didn’t terminate his life that day, I am certain that very shortly thereafter, his lung cancer did. What a disappointment!