Imagine a scrawny kid with large ears that stick out from his head like jug handles. He’s self-conscious about his looks and is exceedingly shy. He’s scared of everything: the dark, ghosts, robbers, bugs, snakes…He’s lousy at sports. He’s a mediocre student. Afraid that his classmates will make fun of him, he runs to school and back home to avoid having contact with them. When he becomes a teenager, he steals money to buy cigarettes. His teachers are exasperated by him. His parents are disappointed in him.
When he grows up, he somehow manages to get through law school, but fails miserably as a lawyer. In his very first case, he feels too shy to cross-examine the witnesses. He is so rattled, he returns his fees to his client and can’t continue with the trial. He experiences humiliation throughout his adulthood. He is physically thrown off a train, kicked, punched, and has stones and rotten eggs thrown at him.
This was Mahatma Gandhi. Today he is revered and honored as a hero who fought injustice wherever he saw it, who led India to independence from British rule, and who inspired and taught people all over the world to fight for their rights through nonviolent means. He was a “Great Soul” indeed.
The Helping Hands kids have been drawing pictures to submit to James Madison University’s Mahatma Gandhi Center for Global Nonviolence “Peace builds community” art contest. Last Friday I told them Gandhi’s life story while they drew. When we think of heroes, we usually think of human beings who are extraordinary. We think of heroes as possessing exceptional strength, looks, charisma, intelligence, courage, and virtue. To me, the most compelling part of Gandhi’s story is how very human and imperfect he was. I told the kids about how Gandhi struggled, was bullied, and had self-esteem issues. I told them about all the incredible things this unlikely hero was able to accomplish before an assassin’s bullet tragically ended his life. I hope that hearing Gandhi’s story will inspire them to see that anyone, even that nerdy, unpopular kid at school just might turn out to be a hero.