Monday, January 7, 2013

The Easy Life of Superheroes

Hold Fast - MercyMe (mp3)

Journal Entry. Sunday, January 6. 11:26 a.m.

Superheroes have it pretty easy most of the time, if we’re being honest. (And, if we’re working under the pretense that superheroes actually exist.) They have these awesome kickass powers, and then they’re placed in situations where their Path To Heroism is fairly obvious.

Rescue cat from tree. Check.
Untie damsel from railroad tracks. Check.
Untie damsel from skyscraper flagpole. Check.
Defuse bomb, first removing possible victims to safe distance. Check check.
Vanquish or subdue monologuing evil bad guy. Discount double-check.

Rarely is a superhero’s challenge more complicated than this, and we in the real world know why.

I tried playing a superhero recently, at least in my own over-inflated skull. Returning to work from a coffee run, I passed a pitiful young homeless woman and her homeless dog. She was cold and wearing dingy layers of ripped and holey clothes and begging near an Interstate off-ramp. I passed her and was haunted at the thought of this being someone’s daughter, so I went to a nearby drugstore and bought her two boxes of granola bars and several large bottles of water.

I flew back to the scene of this Damsel In Distress on my Super-Scooter, handing over these items with my chest puffed out and my long cape flowing back in the gentle breeze, and a ray of sunlight broke through the clouds and shone upon my awesomeness. This damsel said a quick thank you, and I tsk’d her gratitude away (“Think nothing of my awesomeness, ma’am! It’s not a big deal! Except that I secretly think of myself as being just about the best guy in the world right now!”), hopped back on my Super Scooter and soared back to work merely on the fuel of my own ego boost.

I was a Hero. I had Done Something Good. End of Issue #1!

A week or two later, I passed that same girl with her same dog and her same clothes, standing at the entrance to a shopping plaza in town. She was crying, and the tears had run tracks through the dirt on her cheeks. All proof of my Heroic Deed was long gone, long forgotten except by me.

This young woman, this damsel in distress, needs more than one moment, more than one act of love or kindness. She is a project, and she requires an investment of many things, among them time, money and energy. And probably know-how on how to manage and counsel young homeless women about getting back on their feet. If that’s what this young woman wants.

Superman and Spiderman do not save young woman like this. They swoop in, fix problems, and swoop away. They are the Quicker-Fixer-Upper, not gifted at long-term projects.

One particular tween boy at my church is a troubling and sad case. His mom is single and a bit off-kilter, her brittleness stretched thin by the challenges of profession, parenthood and life in general, and he carries himself as a beaten-down product of being dealt a crap hand. His sholders are always slumped. His overlong hair is always dangling in front of his face like Cousin It. His feet slide along the ground.

I know plenty of boys from single-parent homes who have turned out plenty fine. They usually have fairly stable, confident mothers, a solid circle of friends, and usually some degree of meaningful males in their lives. This particular tween boy had none of these benefits.

No Superhero Moment can save him. Sure, I could offer to swoop in and take him bowling one day. I could hang out with him, talk about school and music and listen to anything he had to say. Maybe it would even make the smallest ray of light shine down from the overcast heavens for him. But what good is that if all I’m doing is Swooping In? If I’m not willing to invest? What this boy needs is a regular presence, a reliable person to care about him not just in a moment, but over a longer stretch of time, possibly a lifetime.

Most comically, it’s my nature to thrust myself into this comparative as the hero. As if I’m not occasionally -- perhaps even daily -- the one in distress, in need of rescue. Or, even more disturbingly, perhaps I’m occasionally the villain in need of vanquishing. Perhaps all three of these forces -- hero, victim and villain -- are at war inside me every single day, and no Hero can rescue me from it.

The MercyMe song above is simultaneously addictive for me yet also laughable, as it seems to try turning Jesus into a Superhero in a perfect Superhero Rescue moment. When I hear this song, I think of the scene from Backdraft where Kurt Russell is all, like, “You go.... we... go...” and pulls the dude back up. And I get all misty because I’m a softy.

1 comment:

Daisy said...

Hero, victim and villian all in one? I think that is the definition of human. Great post.