A Complicated Relationship with Heroes

I have a complicated relationship with heroes.

I didn’t post anything when rapper and entrepreneur Nipsey Hussle died because I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t a fan of his music. I didn’t follow his career. However, you can’t come from where I’m from in Los Angeles and not know who he was. I was proud of him as more and more of his legacy was uncovered after his murder. He made Crenshaw hats and Slauson tees cool on big stages and national TV programs. He invested in the community I come from – the community where my mother currently lives. I do not know what he believed or how he lived his life. What I do know is that I wish we loved people well on this side of eternity. I cried in prayer for him and his family. I wish I thought to cry out for him sooner. And not just him, but Black men from hoods like mine who carry the weight of economic empowerment and generational wealth-building on their shoulders. For gang members who make a change to empower their neighborhoods. For drug dealers who decide to mentor young people in job training programs. For those who have seen it all, done it all and lived to tell the stories to the children they are raising. You are someone’s hero. And that can be difficult because it is the only type of responsibility that doesn’t come with criteria.

Now onto Kobe Bryant. I talk a lot about being from LA. I have always loved the fact that it is my home. I’m not a huge sports fan, but I enjoy watching games from time-to-time, especially live. I have never been to a Lakers game at Staples Center. I recently bought a Rams tee to where to a football-watching party – not because I follow the team, but because they’re the home team. I feel the same way about the Dodgers and Anaheim Ducks. I’m mentioning that so you understand the level here. Like many of you, I was shocked last week to get the news of Kobe’s passing. I usually take a moment to unpack my emotions before I speak, which is why I am writing this a week after the fact. I also look at everything through the lens of faith, eternity and the Bible. These are my reference points as a Christian so this piece is no different.

What is complex is wrapping thoughts around my deep emotions over a person I have never met, but grew up admiring. I do not mean this on a human level because as a human one can experience sadness when another person dies. I mean this on a deep, knots-in-my-stomach-and-I-cannot-sleep level. I have thought a lot about this and here is where I have landed. Regardless of your sports stance or thoughts about Kobe as an athlete or person, you respected his talent. And if you grew up in LA in the last 20 years, he was a staple. A hometown hero.

Growing up, my heroes were my brothers. I wrote about them here. They were flawed, imperfect and complicated, but I adored them. I still do. I learned that we can both celebrate and pray for those we look up to. When it seemed like the internet stopped after the announcement of the helicopter crash, we all felt it. How? Many of us prayed, and are still praying, for the surviving family members. Many of us cried. Many of us posted our stories or meeting him, watching him, loving him and feeling sympathy for families left behind. What causes entire communities to grieve? To mourn? To cry when we’ve suppressed emotions for years? To remember and honor? To reconcile with family members we’ve fallen out of touch with? To call our moms and dads and tell them we love them? What compels us to live wholly and fully because we, through death, we realize how fleeting life is? I believe it is this.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. – Ecclesiastes 3:11 ESV

Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. – James 4:14 ESV

For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live! – Ezekiel 18:32 NIV

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” – John 11:25-26 ESV

The Bible is full of Scriptures like these. The thing is we all have an expiration date on this Earth, and do not know who is going in what order. This is not just about living fully, though you should. It is about living as if eternity is at hand, because it is. I know Kobe did not think that was his last helicopter ride. He was young. He was rich. He was a hero to many. In the end, none of that mattered.

I know many of our heroes who are no longer here have lives colored by things they may not be proud of. Kobe and Nipsey are no different. Their lives and deaths are examples that speak to how we view people while they are here, and how we memorialize them when they are not. The #GirlDad hashtag is one of my favorite things on social media right now. I love watching as we celebrate Kobe as a dad and other men who are lovingly fathering their daughters. It seems like we mourn better than we honor. I have been reading reports about different aspects of Kobe’s life. Though massively loved as one of the greatest athletes to ever lived, he was complicated.

To that end, I think three questions are important to both contemplate and thoughtfully answer:

1)      How do you want to be remembered?

2)      How do you choose to remember others?

3)      What has eternal value?

We can all attest to young lives taken abruptly. There is no amount of money, talent or skill that will keep you alive longer. The trouble is we all think we have time. We don’t. We believer we have time to “get it right,” apologize, make amends, truly live for God and not after the lusts of our youth, and so forth. The truth is, now is all you have. Only now. We will all have a last: helicopter ride, store visit, phone call, day at work, visit with family and friends, etc. And if you are like me, you are compelled to look at heroes through a wide lens that exposes both frailty in their humanity and strength in their surrender.

Like you, I am praying. I am praying for families who lost loved ones in the helicopter crash, and also for people I admire. I am praying their lives be surrendered to Jesus – this is not to say Kobe’s wasn’t I don’t know either way. When our heroes transition from time to eternity, I pray for the assurance to not weep as if hope is lost (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We can grieve and celebrate in hope. I pray that we reconcile the relationship we have with their pasts with the promise of their right now, forever. As for me, I am allowing myself to mourn with my city and to rest in the knowing that I am not the only one having a complicated relationship with heroes. As we immortalize them, pray for them. I believe that God uses everything, even our quiet sufferings and questions of why tragedy strikes. He even has use for the memories of imperfect, heroic and complex human beings we call heroes and He calls sons.

Eternity is at hand,


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