I can count the “mortals,” the “real life” people on that list on one hand. There’s a reason Batman and Superman and Chief Brody and Holly Martins are my heroes - they aren’t real. They’re all flawed and complex like real people. But they’re crystalized in a moment (or moments) where they do the right thing, no matter how hard it is. You don’t have to watch them walk around and say or do a bunch of gross things afterward that force you to overlook the fact that they saved Gotham, or saved EARTH, or blew up a killer shark, or brought a infamous racketeer to justice. Real people’s flaws come through a little too often. People, even good, well-meaning people, let you down. And so I’ve never understood people who idolize real people. I get being a fan of a person. I even get being obsessed with people. But I never understand it when people worship other people (ESPECIALLY celebrities and politicians.)
And yet…I find myself stuck in a position here that makes me a bit of a hypocrite. Because I’m listening to The Best Show right now, and Tom is weaving in and out of segments where he’s talking about what the best candy bar is, and then segments where he’s genuinely lamenting the events in Orlando, and wondering out loud about how you stay hopeful after things like that, and re-establishing for himself and for us, what the Best Show means to him, as both a creative outlet, but also as a community that is inclusive and welcoming, and he’s talking about how if those things aren’t at the center - there is no show. And as he weaves in and out, it becomes clear that the candy bar topic is not just a silly thing to talk about…it IS that, but it’s more, too. He’s orchestrating this giant metaphor about how we deal with tragedy, and yet he’s making the metaphor the actual text of the show, too. His words of tribute are very clearly from the heart. And his thoughts on candy bars are too. And the sum of it all is brilliant, and very sweet and rather moving to me. And so yeah, I’m finding it really hard now not to think of Tom as one of my heroes. Tom is just as flawed as any of us. He can be cranky and curmudgeonly. Sometimes he’s really short with callers (in fairness, they’re usually dudes who deserve it) Sometimes he makes fun of stuff that I like, and I get a little sore about it. But in my 8 or so years of listening to the show, I’ve noticed that in his realest moments, often when the chips are down in some way or another, his giant heart comes through. I won’t try to psychoanalyze where that comes from - I don’t know him personally. But it becomes clear in those moments that people mean a lot to him: people that are close to him, and people he doesn’t even know. He cares about what he does. And he cares, very much, that his work is something that is, ultimately, inclusive: a place for everyone who wants to, to come together for a few hours a week, and find a little joy in this strange, goofy world that he (and Jon) have created.
That is a heroic thing. It has certainly saved me from doom more times than I can count.
Mr. (Fred) Rogers (another “IRL” hero of mine) once said: “The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.”
I think Tom does this every week. But some weeks it’s extra special, and it means more.
It’s what makes it easy for me to call Tom my hero.