Saturday, April 20, 2013

Still Life With Robin: Birthday Wishes

by Peggy Robin

Thursday, April 18th was Superman's 75th birthday. Given the tragedy and drama of the past week, a fictional character's supposed birthday hardly seems worth noting, much less celebrating. Yet I am happy to pause amid so much real and important news to honor the made-up comic-book hero.

Superman is, in any event, more than just another fantasy figure. He's the one that's embedded deepest into our cultural lives, rooted there from childhood. When I think of Superman, the first image that comes to mind is not of any of the actors who have embodied the role, nor any of the images of him from the printed page; I think of my brother, age 7 or so, wearing a T-shirt bearing a hand-painted version of the famous "S" logo, and a red towel slung around his shoulders serving as his cape, leaping around the back yard of our suburban 1950s house, yelling, "I'm flying" and "Here to the rescue!" Playing Superman probably took up about three years of his childhood, all told.

I also think of how frequently Superman was called upon to thwart the attempts of evil bombers to blow things up. He always managed to arrive just in time to defuse the ticking time-bomb, and then round up the criminals. A large part of the appeal of the Superman story stems from the idea that as his other self, "mild-mannered reporter" Clark Kent, he can never let others know that he's the one who, time after time, saves the day. He has to change his appearance and step out of himself to do his courageous deeds. The moment he sees that a superhero is needed, he must find a place to transform himself from the ordinary to the extraordinary -- and then back again, once the danger has been contained.

That seems to be just what describes the action of so many people in Boston as the bombs went off. There's a man in the crowd, just watching the runners, and suddenly he stops being a spectator and transforms himself into an emergency medic who fashions a tourniquet out of his ripped clothing and saves a life. There's a woman who has just run a marathon who knows that blood donors are needed, and though exhausted, keeps running another two miles to the hospital to give blood. There are any number of people who see the explosion and rush toward the smoke and noise, not away to safety, to do whatever they can do to help.

In these acts we have seen that Superman (or Superwoman) is real and can come from anywhere at any time. So let's celebrate Superman's birthday this week with special affection. Happy 75th birthday, Man of Steel! And many more!


Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv,, and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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