Niedner: Tales of truth-tellers, and those who speak less than truth
Frederick Niedner October 19, 2012 9:43PM
Updated: November 21, 2012 6:05AM
It may no longer surprise us when one of our heroes falls from grace and becomes a cautionary tale, but that doesn’t make it easy to watch. Plenty among us truly wanted, perhaps even needed, to trust Lance Armstrong as he consistently and assertively denied the constant trickle of accusations that he cheated.
This wasn’t merely Superman. Armstrong had risen from the dead. He’d beaten the Big C as well as the mountains and had dodged the multiple hazards of cycling on his way to seven consecutive victories in the Tour de France. He served as living proof of our cultural creed that hard work, discipline and firmly believing in yourself will take you to the top of whatever ladder you seek to climb.
In addition to his astonishing personal triumph, Armstrong had us wearing those yellow bracelets, symbols of our collective strength and hope, but each one also a reminder he had used his good and famous name to raise half a billion dollars in the fight against cancer. In a world of narcissistic, self-serving superstars, here was one of the good guys.
Now, however, despite all the public service he has done and may continue to do, Armstrong seems to have fallen into the modern purgatory that holds those who have tried to live two, incompatible lives simultaneously, only to suffer serious, public shaming when the fig-leaf curtain between them finally falls away.
Can Armstrong redeem himself? Or will he follow the likes of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Jerry Sandusky on the path of complete denial, thereby nailing themselves ever more firmly to a wall of faces we’d rather never see again? Most likely Armstrong won’t vanish from public life like Greg (“Three Cups of Tea”) Mortenson did after some of his inspiring tales of cross-cultural dialog in the mountains of Central Asia failed a fact-checking test.
To my way of thinking, the route to a second resurrection is repentance, turning oneself around, and that begins with confession. So quit saying it ain’t so, Lance. Tell us the truth, enough of it anyway to free yourself from the burden of propping up the image of someone who never really existed. Even if it takes a century before we trust the sport of cycling, you’ll be surprised at how readily we absolve you and in a whole new way accept and admire you as someone gifted at overcoming fearsome obstacles.
We’ll wait to see if a new Lance emerges.
Meanwhile, on the subject of heroes and resurrection, the easiest person in the news to pull and pray for these days is Malala Yousufzai, the 14-year-old shot in the head by a Taliban assailant merely because she wanted an education. Young Malala didn’t set out to become famous, of course. Except for a group of cowardly bullies who deem women lesser creatures than themselves, no one outside her Pakistani village might ever have heard her name.
But Malala is the sort of person you want in your town — a guileless truth-teller, it seems, and if not fearless, someone who didn’t let fear stop her from standing up not only for her own full humanity, but that of her peers as well. The Taliban have outposts everywhere, not solely among certain Muslims in faraway places, and wherever one group gets away with treating another as subjects, property or beasts of burden, soon enough a Malala will arise, or so we hope.
More often than not, however, doing the right thing is a deadly business. Little wonder we so often find ourselves yearning for resurrection.