As it tends to do, my mind has been riding along in an audio book I just listened to. Trying out the different characters, testing their thought processes, blurring events in reality with events in the book. Sometimes this is inconvenient but occasionally it leads somewhere. See if you can follow…
The book (fan fiction story) was about Lex Luther and his careful methodical task of protecting the human species from the threat of the alien superman. It showed well the overwhelming power of the man of steel and how little could be done to stop him. Luther proceeds to find a way just in case superman should loose his cool and attack everyone. The book offers a view of superman the antagonist, the threat, the creepy monster that sees everything and everyone in the world. It tries to show the psychology of what it might take to tip superman away from his nonviolent protection of humanity and explores the paradoxes of his power.
Superman can see through walls. He can hear conversations 10 miles away even mixed with millions of other conversations. He can see all the evil and hurt and pain and sorrow in the world. He works like crazy to end violent crime and make the world a more loving and peaceful place. Even so, he can only be in one place at a time. He misses people. Sometimes he sleeps. Sometimes he does Clark Kent stuff. Lois doesn’t understand how he can so casually spend time eating spaghetti with her while still hearing the screams and cries around the world without intervening.
When it comes down to it Superman isn’t God. (ignoring many possible illusions here). He can’t save everyone. He has to take time off for himself, even if it isn’t so much a physical need as a psychological one. He values personal time and personal relationships and they require time off from wearing the suit. Time off while the world suffers.
How can he deal with the guilt of knowing that as he slowly types on his Daily Planet typewriter someone is being mugged? or crashing into a tree or…..whatever accident which could have been prevented with Kryptonian strength? There isn’t an easy answer. Of course he doesn’t owe anything to humanity. He doesn’t save kittens because they owe him money or even because he knows them. Its not his rent for living on the planet. Each act is charity, given without being deserved. So why should he feel guilty for not giving enough charity?
The truth is that all of us COULD give more than we do. We could pass more money into charities or do a few more acts of kindness. Even the best of us, or perhaps especially the best of us, can be haunted by the small acts of goodness we failed to perform. And it seems the more aware we are of the world around us, of the people who cry and suffer and weep, the more that desire to help demands of us.
Today was one of the days where I found I had a slightly elevated view of the people around me. It happens sometimes, and thinking like Lex Luther may have upped my processing speed. I saw all of these new college students swirling around me. I’ve been expecting them for a few months now, recording details about them like majors and housing and helping them get settled and moved in. Each one comes to the university with a bundle of expectant hopes and lonely fears, often to a place where no one knows their name.
Because of my access to information I know their names. I get small snippets of their divers stories. One is from Montana, one from southern Indiana, this one has three siblings, that one has a medical condition, this one has worried parents at home, perhaps they picked an engineering major. And this little introvert easily gets overwhelmed by it all. How can I act on all the whimpers that I hear? How can I protect and comfort and encourage them all?
I think I have something of a need to serve. I’m not sure where it came from but a friend pointed it out a few weeks ago by asking if I felt like they needed help or if I needed to help.
Sometimes people need help.
But most people can handle their own problems. I step in because I need to help. Somehow I attached my personal value to my ability to be of use to other people. While I’m sure there are worse things to which you might attach your self-esteem this troubles me a little. What happens when I can’t help? I don’t have superman’s strength of speed or time traveling skills. Just my own plodding determination and a car I use rather liberally. What happens when my car or my body breaks down and I can’t be the first to arrive or the last to leave anymore?
And besides, you can’t earn your way into heaven or love anyway, it can only be given undeserved, for none of us are perfect enough to deserve it. This is what grace is all about.
In the story, Superman passes his ultimate morality test and chooses to be the symbol of hope and goodness in spite of all the paradoxes and personal harm done to him along that path. He chooses to be the best good he can figure out how to be, even if he can’t save them all.
I can’t save them all. Not even close. I get to watch my friends and peers face the terrors of this life. Fighting the entrophic victor as they age, fall in and out of love, fail mentally and physically and socially. Sometimes I can help. Sometimes I can slow the inevitable decay but I can’t reverse Multiple Scleroses, I can’t turn back time, I can’t save them all.
I can’t even save me.
I need a superhero too.
He’s coming you know? A hero, a savior we don’t deserve. Someone who can see all the sorrows and tears and can heal all the hearts. Healed hearts can feel the joy and the peace and the wonder of life, even if the sad parts don’t disappear. Somehow the healed heart loves the good even better because it has been hurt.
I’m not a superman in an ivory tower. I’m not a mouse in a tree even though I feel like it sometimes. I’m in the race with everyone else. Maybe I sometimes have a better view or a longer sight (I am rather tall) and I can do small things to help individuals, one by one, find a bit more healing and hope than they had before. I would like to say I don’t do all these acts of service for secret Luther-motives, but I think in part I do them for me as much as I do them for anyone else.
Still, fortress of solitude makes for a pretty sweet ivory tower.