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Whether wandering the lamplit streets at midnight or hiding your true face behind a mask, there is a simple truth engrained in each superhero story you’ll ever read: The loneliness of being a hero.
Take Frodo as the example. In his darkest moments he looks up to Galadriel and says, “I can’t do this alone.” However, the only response Galadriel can give is this: You are a Ring-bearer, Frodo. To bear a Ring of Power is to be alone.
To encapsulate this point, a brief story: When Amber and I were in Indianapolis on our cross-country save-the-world trip, we noticed a homeless man crouched on the sidewalk. Everyone was hurrying past him, refusing to make eye-contact, as if avoiding his gaze would banish him from existence. As we walked around the streets, people smiled and nodded at us politely, as people do; however, the moment we bent to speak to the homeless man, we noticed we were also being banished. Even though we were doing something good, people avoided us, too.
Standing up against evil is a scary business.
I think everybody wants to change the world, but they’re also afraid of what sacrifices they may have to make to accomplish that.
What if the homeless person is sick? What if he robs me? What if people make fun of me for stepping outside the comfort zone? What if I’m alone?
When I entered Rex Rehabilitation and Nursing Care Center to volunteer on Friday, I was alone. I was nervous. Ever since my stint as a Nursing Assistant Student, I’ve had a passion for providing companionship to the elderly. Often, the people living in nursing homes are the loneliest people of all — even more so than heroes. It’s difficult to enter a brand new environment, knowing no one, and ask how I can help.
The Activities Director was friendly, and she gave me a list of people I could visit, as well as reading material and nail polish, in case the residents fancied either of those things.
When I was a student CNA, talking to my patients came easily. Here, though, I didn’t have a job. Nobody knew me. I felt awkward walking up to a random patient’s door, knocking, and coming in to see if they wanted to chat. “Hi! You don’t know me! But I’m a new volunteer, and I’m here to … uh… talk? Also, I’m a superhero. But I’m not weird. Totally not weird.” Right. This was going to go smoothly.
So I centered myself. Today is just the awkward introduction. Next week they’ll know me, and smile, and be glad to see me, and I can really go to work in being a friend to these people who are in such need of kindness and companionship. It turns out, I wasn’t wrong. After each room visit, the patient smiled and held my hand and said a similar, “I’m glad to have met you. I hope you come back next week. I’ll be looking forward to it.”
There you go. Looking forward to it. I am giving these people a bright spot to look forward to. Next week won’t be as lonely. Next week I won’t be meeting strangers, I’ll be visiting friends.
Another reason superheroes are portrayed as lonely in comics is because of how much time it takes to save the world.
I’ve struggled simply finding enough time to eat dinner, let alone spend time with my friends or boyfriend! I feel like Buffy, emo-kid pouting at Giles, “Clark Kent had a job. I just want to go on a date.” Unfortunately, I think this month my dates will have to be superhero-related.
So Saturday was a special treat! My task: To help paint the toy room for Zach’s Toy Chest. Since I’ve worked with them in the past, I was relieved to be spending the afternoon with people I knew. Even better, Creative Lens Art by Melodie came out to photograph for us. Melodie, the photographer, has been my friend for years, and had also recently met Holly, founder of Zach’s Toy Chest, for a family photoshoot!
Zach’s Toy Chest collects toys to distribute to children with cancer and terminal illnesses at local hospitals. Holly started it when her own son, Zach, was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma. Instead of laying down to weep, she stood up in true superhero spirit and started helping not only her own child, but hundreds more.
Thrilled to not only be volunteering, but also spending my Saturday afternoon with friends, I took to the paint and also posed for Melodie in my partially completed costume (I know you guys have been waiting to see it!) In under an hour, we’d hauled boxes and furniture, mixed paint, and coated two walls with a lovely shade of light green.
It’s scary–and lonely–to go outside your comfort zone. Superheroes do it every day. It’s not easy. It’s hard. But it’s worth it. Once your comfort zone expands, you can reach further and do more. That’s how you develop superpowers.