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03 November 2005

Did you ever know that you're my hero?

Rosa Parks receives the Congressional Gold Medal
from President Clinton on 15 June 1999.

It's a pretty schmaltzy song, as schmaltzy and syrupy as Eurovision Song Contest songs. And terribly overplayed, on radio, in elevators, over supermarket speakers. And at a million birthday parties daughters throw for Mom. (Not inappropriately.)

Truth to tell, I've always loved Bette Midler's version of it, and it always chokes me up. Against my will -- I think I am immune from schmaltz and sentimentality.

But my brother e-mailed me that he was watching the funeral service for Rosa Parks on television, and Jesse Jackson's daughter sang it -- quite beautifully, he said, terribly movingly. And my brother knows music and performing and singing very well.

Suddenly the schmaltz disappears. The perfect song to sing to an amazing American woman who is no longer with us.

Now, if we want to be brave against injustice or racism or hatred, we'll have to do it all by ourselves. Rosa Parks isn't here anymore for us to gaze at in admiration and wonder. Rosa Parks isn't here anymore to point to and to tell her story to our grandchildren.

If we just want to be just a little braver than we usually are, we'll have to find the strength all by ourselves. I guess like she had to in 1955.

Did I ever tell her she was my hero? I have a hazy memory of writing her a few years ago when I read in the paper that a mugger in Detroit knocked the old lady to the ground and tried to steal her purse. (Bad choice of victim.) But she struggled to hold on to her purse, and she got up again, and kept being Mrs. Rosa Parks until last week. I hadn't even realized she was still around, I hadn't known she'd lived the last half of her life in Detroit. I wanted her to know how happy I was that she was still around and kicking.

She was the first woman ever to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, only the second African-American to be given the honor.

Buses, ordinary city buses draped in black crepe, were the centerpieces of the motorcade that took her body to the Capitol.

What kind of national hero gets to her state funeral escorted by city buses?

She seemed like such an ordinary woman. A seamstress. A woman who took the bus home. An old woman walking home from the grocery store.

(She wasn't, of course. In the 1940s and 1950s in the Deep South, years before the act that made her famous, she'd been a civil-rights activist with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People -- a very dangerous and provocative thing to be.)

But of course that was her message, a message as important as any message from Ghandi or Lincoln:

There are no
ordinary human beings.

I don't care if this is schmaltzy. She was the wind beneath my wings.

* * *

Wind Beneath My Wings

Words and Music by Larry Henley and Jeff Silbar

It must have been cold there in my shadow,
to never have sunlight on your face.
You were content to let me shine. That's your way.
You always walked a step behind.

So I was the one with all the glory,
while you were the one with all the strength.
A beautiful face without a name -- for so long,
a beautiful smile to hide the pain.

Did you ever know that you're my hero,
and ev'rything I would like to be?

I can fly higher than an eagle,
'cause you are the wind beneath my wings.

It might have appeared to go unnoticed,
but I've got it all here in my heart.
I want you to know I know the truth, of course I know it,
I would be nothing without you.

Did you ever know that you're my hero,
and ev'rything I would like to be?
I can fly higher than an eagle,
'cause you are the wind beneath my wings.

Fly, fly, fly away,
you let me fly so high.
Oh, fly, fly,
so high against the sky, so high I almost touch the sky.
Thank you, thank you, thank God for you,
the wind beneath my wings.


Anonymous Maury said...



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