Last week, Citizen Co-founder Larry Platt and Penn Professor Sarah Gronningsater drafted Walt Whitman for the Phillies’ World Series starting lineup. I’ll go a step further and call upon Victorian poet Alfred Lord Tennyson. Tennyson’s poem, Ulysses, is homage to the ancient Greek idea of heroism. And in Philadelphia — and in all of the United States today — heroism is sorely needed.
The Greek concept of heroism — so well expressed in Ulysses — is not flamboyant. We are not talking about comic book or movie superheroes. The Greek hero archetype is more a steady-as-she-goes kind of guy. He (and, back then, as now, it was almost always a he) is a leader who inspires others to be their best selves and to work as a team. Ulysses, sometimes called Odysseus because of his post-Trojan War 10-year odyssey, led his crew to confront mythic challenges: the Sirens, the Cyclops, and literally passing through Scylla and Charybdis.
Tennyson’s Ulysses says, “that which we are, we are; / One equal temper of heroic hearts.” And that’s a good summary of the 2022 Phillies. The team has had its ups and downs, but they have cohered as a team: veteran players mentoring younger; experienced players finding their stride when colleagues were injured or sidelined; each athlete publicly praising the manager and the team rather than hogging the spotlight.
Like Ulysses — and Bryce Harper, J. T. Realmuto, Kyle Schwarber, and Rob Thompson — we must stay actively engaged in promoting and supporting the courageous and true in our society.
And then there was the iconic moment at the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 5 of the National League Championship Series (NLCS). The score was Padres 3, Phillies 2. Bryce Harper came up to bat. As Matt Gelb wrote in the Inquirer, “He was groomed for this moment, and the thing about Bryce Harper is that it’s always believable. There has never been an expectation he avoided. Harper swings harder than anyone because he knows he can. The most incredible thing about him is that he suspends time. The cheers are loudest when he’s at the plate, but an entire ballpark holds its breath in the second before a pitch is delivered.”
A Greek hero embodies the best of the society he represents. Harper’s solid, professional meeting of expectations inspires followers (including diehard Phillies fans like me) “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield,” as Tennyson says.
I’m writing this on Saturday, October 29, after the Phillies’ victory over the Astros in the first game of the World Series and awaiting Game 2, with the steadfast Zack Wheeler on the mound. Like Ulysses embarking again from Ithaca, we do not know the outcome of the 2022 championship matchup. But we can say with Tennyson’s Ulysses, “Some work of noble note may yet be done.”
That applies not only to the Phillies but to all of us as we cast our ballots in the 2022 midterm election. It’s time to affirm the best qualities in United States society. Ulysses “has become a name; / For always roaming with a hungry heart.” He claims to have been “a part of all that I have met” and “To follow knowledge like a sinking star.”
Like Ulysses — and Bryce Harper, J. T. Realmuto, Kyle Schwarber, and Rob Thompson — we must stay actively engaged in promoting and supporting the courageous and true in our society. George Carlin said that “baseball always breaks your heart,” and so, too often, does politics. (Maybe not this time!)
Win or lose in the World Series, the Phillies will continue to sing High Hopes (along with Dancing on My Own — a song about confronting rejection and adversity, not rebuffing teamwork). Win or lose, in the World Series or in the elections, we must say heroically, “’Tis not too late to seek a newer world.”
Elaine Maimon, Ph.D., is the author of Leading Academic Change: Vision, Strategy, Transformation. Her co-authored book, Writing In The Arts and Sciences, has been designated as a landmark text. She is a Distinguished Fellow of the Association for Writing Across the Curriculum. Follow @epmaimon on Twitter.
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