Friday, September 14, 2012

Who Needs Superheroes?

I found this in a notebook I was going to toss... I don't remember writing it, but I liked it enough to post it here.  I'm not even sure WHEN this was written.  Sometime in the past five years, definitely.  As Yul Brynner might say, in character, "Is a puzzlement."

Who needs superheroes?

I do.

I think we all do.

It's hardwired into us - this visceral need, this craving for the heroic. For something tangible that represents the hope, the belief, that good is stronger than evil.  For a voice that tells us that fighting for truth is right and noble.  For a presence that affirms that the world we live in, though flawed and darkly clouded, is worth saving.

A need for heroes is something that speaks to the part of all of us, hushed since childhood, that wants to howl and rage against the things that should not be.  Children know this, know the truth, that even though life isn't fair... that it should be.  We adults have shirked our duty, taken the easy path, let them down.  We tell them, "Life isn't fair.  Nobody ever said it would be."  We wait for them to grow up and, betrayed by those who should protect and defend them, turn into sneering, cynical, blase teens who rightfully rebel against those who were once their heroes.  We call it maturing... but what it is is the first of many small deaths of the soul.   No wonder our world is full of alcoholics, drug addicts, petty criminals, and security fund brokers.  If life isn't fair, why make the effort?

Life isn't fair?  What does that even mean?  That good things happen to bad people?  Yes, because we allow it.   We say we can't change it.  That it's bigger than we are.  That we have to live with corruption, cronyism, partisanship, deceptions large and small.  We have allowed the corrupt and amoral to gain so much power for so long that it is no wonder our lights are snuffed out before they have a chance to burn with righteous indignation. 

Or does "life isn't fair" mean that bad things happen to good people?  That people die before we're ready to let them go?  That homes are destroyed, families are broken, lives lost by disasters both natural and man-made?  As I child I wept for the loss of a beloved pet.  Not fair?  No - "fair" has nothing to do with the natural cycles of life.  It is neither fair nor unfair.  It simply is.  But the senseless death of a colleague's husband and young daughter, killed by a drunk driver as they were on their way to the little one's dance class - that is unfair.  It should not be

It is unfair when innocents die and the guilty live.  Unfair that our society condones the use of alcohol, even drugs, by the individual - claiming that so long as "no harm is done" to the majority, our justice system can penalize the minority who do harm.  But does a jail term compensate a grieving mother and sister for their loss?  Not by a long shot.  Is it fair?  No - and there is no shame in crying out against unfairness.  No shame in asking why - why bad things that did not have to happen do.

The answer to that "why" is the hero's call to action... not a call to answer, but a call to act.  And if we do not have superheroes, if they cannot walk or fly among us, we turn to those who have the courage, the heart, to question the bland assertion of "Life isn't fair."  We look to them as children look to cartoon supermen.  We root for them, cheer them on.

We need heroes.  We need superheroes, but in their absence, everyday heroes will have to do.

I see our young men and women in uniform fighting and dying in wars they did not begin - torn and battered, but still fierce in their proud warrior spirits that they will continue to struggle against tyrants and injustice and almost insurmountable odds.  Many know, as we know, that war is unfair.  But... hate it as we might, there are times when it must be fought.

I see my fellow teachers, struggling daily against the ever-growing burden of entitled, apathetic wealth and soul-starving poverty, of society's failure to take responsibility for its children and their families, of well-meaning politicians who - despite having never set foot on the other side of the "big desk" - feel that legislation and high-stakes testing and tying teacher salaries to statistical assessments can force reform and better education.  And yet, these teachers come to school every day - many never taking even a single sick day - because the children need them.

I see parents who desperately want the world to be fair for their children grit their teeth and clench their fists as daily, money and power trump hard work and honest effort.  What sort of message is that sending - that a man who kicks or throws a ball, that another who screams obscenities into a microphone, that a third who lies and cheats and cooks the books in a high-rise corner office makes more in a scant year than a mother working two jobs at minimum wage can make in a decade?  But... off to work they go, single parents and married parents, because not going sends an even less palatable message.

We humans are deeply, unchangeable flawed.  We are, each of us, in varying degrees selfish, judgmental, fearful creatures not much different (and certainly no better) than our primate cousins.  Our drives are their drives - whether chimp or banker, gorilla or entrepreneur.  First, stay alive.  Make a family.  Pass on part of yourself.  Next, protect the family.  Gather the best for yourself and yours.  Drive off others who would diminish what you have.  Finally, if you are in a place where you and yours have no worries about your survival, only then allow scavengers to take your leavings. 

It often means, on a human level, that we turn a blind eye to those in need.  We concoct reasons - they're lazy, they're here illegally, they're unworthy, unwashed.  At the very least, they're Not Like Us.  We managed to make a place for ourselves without help, after all - or our parents did.  We build this, didn't we?  We made it All By Ourselves.  And who would come soaring in to our aid, if we needed it?  Nobody, of course - and so we become the lack of change that proves the truth we so glibly spout.  After all, superheroes don't exist - and we don't need them, anyway.  Anyone worth his pulse can manage on his own two feet, right?

Except when they can't, through no fault of their own.

And that's why we need superheroes... or I do, at least.  They may not be real.  They may never be real... but they're needed, fictional or not.  Desperately needed by a world that needs someone with the strength and courage to fight what is so very wrong.

Life isn't fair.  But... shouldn't it be?

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