I learn so much from my grandkids. This month’s wisdom teaching comes from the three-year-old, explaining the role of superheroes.
Drawing a line of tall figures with round, staring eyes, he explained, “These are ghosts….” The ghosts are drawn in dark hues of purple, blue, and black. Their unformed faces feel vague and detached. Their bodies without limbs stretch like heavy robes to the ground, solid and imposing.
Ghosts. I think of all the images and stories we allow to haunt us, not only from fiction, but from our own histories. We can be tormented by unsettling visions from our past lives – especially our very-recent-past lives. Even from what is happening right in front of us, right now.
“These are ghosts that scare people,” my grandson said, confirming what I know to be all too true. “But they don’t scare Bruce Banner, because he saves people.”
Ah, the hero.
My grandson loves this particular superhero – not just The Hulk. He loves Bruce Banner. The ordinary guy who becomes something more than he is, on occasion. Through outrage at what he sees happening before him.
Even if your whole goal is simply to help people’s lives suck less, that’s so much more than a lot of people are offering. If the ghosts are our fears, our regrets, or what we become when we succumb to hopelessness, then Hulk might be a reminder of the double edges of being a superhero. It’s the injustices of bullying and exploiting and defeating ordinary people – the situations that create ghosts – that bring on Hulk’s roar. The price: you often feel like just smash, smash, smashing things.
The one who actually saves people is Bruce Banner. Because, using his great scientific mind and huge heart, he learns to tame and manage The Hulk. While Hulk’s superpowers are strength and endurance, Bruce Banner’s superpower is compassion. For himself, for his least nuanced and most aggravated reactions. For his primitive, irrational chest-thumping. For going green with rage and frustration.
Bruce Banner just keeps working at it.
My grandson drew some sidekicks for The Hulk. He made “Yellow Scrabble,” whose superpower I have decided is decimating wordplay, leaving a bad guy speechless with a triple-word-score comeback to his irritating remark, the superpower we all dream of. And “Blue Bowling Ball Man,” who, tiptoeing like a ballerina and then kicking that leg back with a flourish worthy of Fred Astaire, uses his weekend nonchalance in blatantly unattractive league wear to Simply. Not. Care. What. You. Think. The ultimate superpower. Blue Bowling Ball Man will play his game, his way, for the win. And have fun doing it.
May we all join forces against the fierce “Pink Bad Guy,” whose portrait looks like just a hot mess of disorganized, naked human frailty, fighting against all of us as hard as possible. Maybe Bruce Banner can tame this brute, too, in time.
Or maybe we can each tame Pink Bad Guy, using our words, like Yellow Scrabble, and our brains and self-compassion, like Bruce, and our devil-may-care individuality, channeling our inner Blue Bowling Ball Man. Wishing us all the strength and endurance to let go when what we’d really like to do is just smash, smash, smash; to keep trying to turn that split into a spare, using a little English to turn things around. Heroic indeed.
a title is a brand
is a name
not your name
gotta take it to the
go gotta win gotta
cheering with the crowd
gonna give it to the sun
gonna show you what I
like a name is gonna fly
As I think about the book, I remember skimming bindweed with an iron rake, her tossing everything over the compost fence, descending the steps into her disease and my history, her knitting in that rocking chair, shoveling snow like memories, driving the jeep like I needed four-wheel-drive to cover the terrain of dementia, always caught off-guard flat-footed and unprepared, a pilgrim being burned at the stakes, Dad pitching horseshoes, the black wall of tornado, driving for yarn and lakes and singing with Mr. Rogers and finding stepping stones to make our way through.
The Path of a Tornado
I have considered
Bindweed & Iron
and pushed off onto a side table to look at later
Basho’s haiku written in 1686:
the old pond
a frog leaps in
sound of the water
The master of wabi sabi: the ephemeral beauty and deep meaning of simple, homey objects weathering, gaining patina before utterly crumbling away; “both the passing of time and time transfixed”
Weathering: the wabi sabi of Alzheimer’s
Basho’s book written of his travels around Japan from March 27 to August 21, 1689:
The Narrow Road to the Deep North
As it begins, he writes,
The months and days are the travelers of eternity. The years that come and go are also voyagers. Those who float away their lives on ships or who grow old leading horses are forever journeying, and their homes are wherever their travels take them. Many of the men of old died on the road, and I too for years past have been stirred by the sight of a solitary cloud drifting with the wind to ceaseless thoughts of roaming.
Last year I spent wandering along the seacoast. In autumn I returned to my cottage on the river and swept away the cobwebs. Gradually the year drew to its close. When spring came and there was mist in the air, I thought of crossing the Barrier of Shirakawa into Oku. I seemed to be possessed by the spirits of wanderlust, and they all but deprived me of my senses. The guardian spirits of the road beckoned, and I could not settle down to work.
That title is taken twice already now, once by Basho, once by Richard Flanagan. Flanagan even had prisoners of war. Everything I do is already done.
old movie The Big Country
Dad’s favorite scene
nice haiku, but what’s the title of your book?
Dad’s Favorite Scene
now tell me, what did we prove?
any advice? don’t do it.
Stretching my Patience
stretched wire thin
It Was a Dark and Stormy Night
Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote that, I found out years later. The author of, “Patience is not passive, it is active…it is concentrated strength.”
He also wrote, “There are two lives to each of us, the life of our actions, and the life of our minds and hearts. History reveals men’s deeds and their outward characters, but not themselves. There is a secret self that has its own life, unpenetrated and unguessed.”
A Pilgrimage to My Motherland was written in 1860 by Robert Campbell, he who traveled back to “the Egbas and the Yorubas of Central Africa” from America. A black man leaving America, taking his family far from these troubled shores. Poor timing to be usurping the title of his book, I think. As if it was ever anything but a poor idea.
Mom or Mommy in English.
In Japanese: mama.
So that’s just spooky, not helpful. Still chasing a title. Still searching for the hidden meaning.