On Monday, I was beyond honoured to sing Whakaaria Mai (How Great Thou Art) at the public memorial service for the legendary Jonah Lomu. It was one of the most incredibly humbling and emotional moments of my life and I felt so blessed to be able to contribute in some small way.
I first met Jonah when I was 6-years-old. I had my photo taken with him, fulfilling every Kiwi kid’s dream, and then refused to wash my hand for several days because, as I explained to my bemused mother, “Jonah touched it!” Throughout my childhood, due to a very special family friend, I met many of the New Zealand Sevens players, and was always in awe of those gigantic heroes. But no one was cooler than Jonah, the gentle giant who always had time to say hello to a little kid.
While I sat beside the stage at Jonah’s memorial I thought about the importance of legends; the people we look up to and want to be like when we grow up. As a child of the 90s, I couldn’t have asked for a better idol than Jonah Lomu. He was the boy who overcame from the first moment, growing into the man who never stopped overcoming. Through hardship, global fame at a young age, and years of illness that threatened to dim his bright star, Jonah faced his challenges head on, with determination and spirit, but most importantly, with dignity.
As I stood singing on that stage, my heart bursting and my tears threatening to spill over, I felt deep respect and gratitude to that phenomenal man. He was, in every respect, a legend. A hero. The hero of my childhood.
Later that night I thought about the many kids who were in the crowd at Jonah’s memorial, and I hoped that in this constantly evolving world we live in, they will remember Jonah. I hoped that they will also find others, though none will match him, who can provide the sort of positive influence, the example of hard work, laughter, dignity and love that Jonah provided for us.
Not that Jonah was a saint. His friend Eric Rush dispelled that notion in the best way possible, with a speech filled with good-humoured anecdotes and stories. Above all else, Jonah was authentic. He was a real person. He had fun, he had hard times, he lived his life.
Heroes are important. The position of role model is not an easy one, but it is so vital for our young people to have legends to inspire them. I don’t think that role models should represent perfection (who can?), but instead honesty and a human effort to do good. Whether that person is Jonah Lomu, Manu Vatuvei, Lorde, Metiria Turei, Parris Goebel, or any of the other awe-inspiring Kiwis out there doing their best, I hope that every Kiwi kid can find someone to look up to.
So, thank you, Jonah. Thank you for sharing your talent and your grace with us. And for giving little kids everywhere someone to inspire them.Support Villainesse