Floating a Little



• Post Title and Inspiration:

Mary Oliver — Still, what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled–To cast aside the weight of facts–And maybe even to float a little above this difficult world.

My Life with Superman


December, 1978.  I was 21 and in Hell.

The year before, I’d gone through my first serious bipolar episode, dropped out of college, watched my mom have a nervous breakdown because of my “failure,” worked as a nurse’s aide in a nursing home, and waded through one stress-induced physical illness after another.  All I knew was that I had to get back to school, any school, or my life was over.

I picked nursing school because I thought it would be easy, and because it was something I knew I could do.  So, I gave up my dream of The Writers’ Workshop in Iowa City and studied anatomy and physiology instead.  Four months into my first year, I was miserable and bored.  Most of the other students in my class were fresh out of high school.  Three years difference doesn’t seem like much now, but then I felt old, separate and lonely.  The depression I’d passed through the year before was back, and I was terrified I’d fail again.

Christopher Reeve, Superman

Right before Christmas, a few of us from school went to the movies.  And my life changed.

I must have seen Christopher Reeve’s Superman over two dozen times that year.  I’d sit through the horrible sound mix, Marlon Brando’s bored performance, and Gene Hackman’s campy Lex Luthor for The Scene.  Lois Lane is buried in her car.  Superman pulls it out, rips off the door, brushes off her face, then howls.  He launches into space to spin the world backwards, changing the laws of physics to save her.

Christopher Reeve, Superman

And then, at the end of the movie, just before the credits roll, Chrissy flies high over the Earth—the Protector on Duty.  As he passes by, he looks into the camera and smiles.  Don’t worry, the smile says.  I’m here.

 Superman got me through my first year of nursing school.  It was the first time I remember using a movie as a tool to distract me from my bipolar symptoms.  Not that I had any idea what was wrong with me then.  I only knew that for two hours I could believe in a hero who might turn back time, a hero who might save me from the horror waiting outside the theater, a hero who might save me from me.

Christopher Reeve, Reeve FoundationIn 2004, when Christopher Reeve died, I set up an altar in my apartment to honor him.  I’d just gotten divorced and the worst depression of my life was settling in, soon to result in drugs, electroshock and the end of my life as I knew it.  I had tried to find a Hero, but no one could turn back time for me.

Still, Chrissy pointed the way for me in how he dealt with his adversity.  He became more of a hero for me at the end of his life than in all the viewings of The Scene so many years ago.  He planted the seeds of perseverance in the face of hopelessness, of finding purpose when everything once valued is taken away.  In his determination, he taught a quiet class in Heroics 101.

Henry Cavill, Man of Steel, SupermanWhen I went to Man of Steel, I didn’t think about the Super luggage I carried into the theater with me.  I just hoped it would be good (with Christopher Nolan as Producer, I thought it had a shot).  I looked forward to enjoying a movie without needing it as my mood had leveled out over the last few days.  And I was curious about Henry Cavill.  Lots of beefy guys had put on the cape since Chrissy, but none could really fill the boots—at least in my estimation.

I’m a little shocked at what I discovered.  And it means that I will probably see Man of Steel several times this summer.  Whenever Henry shows up on screen in the Suit, whenever he picks himself up and jumps back into the fight, whenever he weeps for the things he’s forced to do, I see myself.  I see my vulnerability, my sorrow, my loneliness.  I see my determination, my strength, my courage.  I see the whole of what it means to be a Hero.

I’ve learned the lesson.  I’m wearing the cape now.  And it fits fine.

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