“You’re much stronger than you think you are. Trust me.”
- Superman in All-Star Superman #10 written by Grant Morrison
The Daily Planet reporter, Clark Kent, dashes into a phone booth and emerges transformed into his red-caped alter ego. As Superman, he takes to the air and defies the laws of physics, streaking across the skyline on his way to save someone in the city from certain disaster.
For the past 80 years our culture has been enthralled by stories of superheroes. Wonder Woman (who made her first comic book appearance in 1941) is more popular today than ever, with last year’s Wonder Woman movie having earned a reported $820+ million worldwide.
Superman and Wonder Woman are but two of the many fictional superheroes portraying people with extraordinary abilities and heart to match. These superheroes use their superhuman powers for good; fighting evil and injustice, they are able to save the day when others fail. They are incorruptible. And maybe this is where our endless interest in them lies.
While superhero characters are undoubtedly entertaining, at the start of this new year I look around and find myself appreciating the very real-life superheroes walking among us.
The sound coming from the other room startled the young girl. Her father had just picked her up after kindergarten and she was settling in with a snack to watch a favorite TV show. She jumped up from the couch and ran to discover her father lying on the bathroom floor. “Daddy, Daddy, wake up!” Her father did not move. At five years old, she didn’t understand that the needle hanging from his arm had delivered a lethal injection. Panicked, she grabbed her tiny purse and ran out the door and down the country road to seek help.
In another part of town, a middle-aged woman had the strangest feeling come over her. Catharine* spoke to her boss and told her that she needed to leave work; she didn’t know why, but felt an overwhelming compulsion. This was such unusual behavior for Catharine that her boss told her to go ahead and do what she felt she needed to. Walking briskly to her car, Catharine began driving and soon turned down a lightly traveled road. There, walking alone, was a small girl. As Catharine pulled up beside her and rolled the car window down, the distraught child tearfully exclaimed, “My daddy needs help!” Catharine protected the child and called authorities. For this one child, Catharine was a real-life superhero.
Daniel was on his morning commute when he saw a pedestrian take a bad fall. Without hesitation, he pulled over, jumped out of his car and hurried to the woman’s side. After a quick physical check to be sure moving her wouldn’t do more harm than good, Daniel drove the woman, who by now had introduced herself as Emma, to a local hospital emergency room. Emma was bruised and shaken but checked out okay, much to the relief of her family. Like Daniel, superheroes do good even when it costs them something. Daniel could have continued on his commute and his uninterrupted morning; he could have assumed the driver behind him would stop for Emma. But he didn’t take that chance; he saw someone in need and responded, and in that moment he became someone’s superhero.
You and Me
Last year, our country had tragedies and disasters to spare. Flooding, fires, mass shootings, and other events tested the very fiber of our souls. Yet out of each tragedy came stories of heroes: The young man who covered his girlfriend during a shooting in Las Vegas; the boat that appeared to a couple clinging to their rooftop in Texas; a New York business consultant delivering generators to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico who happened upon and rescued 13 stranded elderly women.
As we leave behind the tumultuous and uncertain year that was 2017, I look to the future with optimism. Why? Because there’s a superhero inside each of us. We can choose to fight injustice, resist hate, spread joy, seek peace, offer hope, and aid healing. We can choose to leave each person, each place, and each day better than we found it. We may not have superhuman powers but, as Superman himself once said, “You’re much stronger than you think you are. Trust me.”
*The names of individuals mentioned in this article have been changed to protect their privacy.