rosa parks died yesterday (news story here). she was such a clear example of the ordinary becoming an icon. many times, throughout the rest of her life, rosa parks would be asked, “what motivated you to sit down on that bus?” interviewers always assumed she would provide an answer about how she wanted to start the civil rights movement or that she wouldn’t tolerate any more bigotry and racial inequality. but her answer was, “my feet were tired.” rosa parks ran out of steam, and it turned her into a flashpoint, a hero, a tipping point that changed our nation. how does someone who’s just tired and needs to sit down on a bus (in a way that was illegal, of course) become an icon?
an icon is something or someone that becomes an image of, or represents, something else — usually something bigger. the cross represents so much more to us christ-followers than the literal execution device used on jesus.
human icons, i think, are particularly interesting. no one can make herself into an icon. icon status is something that happens in the collective conscious of a group of people. they don’t have to be as universally known or adopted as rosa parks (even her icon status would mean something very different to an african-american than it would to most sympathetic anglos, and even more different to some, less-sypathetic anglos).
this is particularly interesting to me this week, as this coming sunday is the two-year anniversary of mike yaconelli’s death. obviously, mike never got even close to the broad cultural awareness of rosa parks’ story. but for those of us who know him (personally, or even, through hearing him speak or reading his books), mike stood for stuff that few seemed willing to stand for; mike said things few seemed to be willing to say; and the whole while, we could tell that mike was just one of us — he had tired feet just like us. no one would have expected mike to propose a purpose-driven nation, or be asked to meet with the president (or even bono), or take over the presidency of a college (ha!). but his combination of penetrating message and broken normalcy have made him somewhat of an icon for those of us who knew him. seeing a photo of yac brings back more than memories of fun stories (though it has that effect also). seeing a photo of yac, for me, brings up that whole embodiment of brokenness and truth and humor and passion and frustration and eagerness. and childlikeness.