Just one act of kindness can make an impact. Join the national movement to Choose Kind, inspired by R.J. Palacio’s debut novel, WONDER.
By Matthew Cody
I practically grew up wearing a cape. Sometimes it was a real, honest-to-goodness cape with a Superman symbol drawn on the back in black magic marker. But as often as not it was a towel, or my jacket tied around my neck. A shirt would do in a pinch and my poor mother spent untold hours of my childhood trying to untie the knots of my shirtsleeves. Supes was my guy.
For those of you who need a quick primer - Superman is an alien, the last survivor of a dead planet. Despite a loving adoptive family, he’s still an outsider. He’s different and he’s treated badly because of it. As a kid, he’s picked on and pushed around because his parents won’t let him play sports. But what the other kids don’t know is that he’s so powerful that playing sports with them would actually put them in danger. Even as an adult, mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent is the office klutz who will never get the girl.
But what makes Superman really, well, super, is that he could score any number of touchdowns as easily as breathing. He could take off his nerdy glasses and get the girl. He could toss the bullies into the next cornfield, into the sun. But he chose not to. Superman rose above it all – up, up and away. That’s pretty potent stuff for a terminally-shy kid wearing his shirt tied around his neck.
I don’t know what came first, the awkwardness or the cape. Did I get picked on because I ran around my neighborhood dressed up like a superhero or did I dress up like a superhero because I was getting picked on? I’m not really sure that it matters because the bullying continued long after the cape went away.
I wasn’t bullied by one specific kid. Throughout elementary and middle school it was more a series of unfortunate encounters, each little shame a doomsday plot. Each conflict a cliffhanger in which the hero rarely triumphed. But I learned something over the years in spite of, or perhaps because of, it all.
We are all powerless at some point in our lives. We all feel alone and alien in a world that doesn’t seem to want us, surrounded by evil-doers determined to make our lives miserable.
But we grow. We change. And under a bright yellow sun we discover a strength that goes deeper than our muscles. We defy the mere gravity that presses down on us and we leap, we soar into the future. And when we get there, we look back on our villains not with a desire for vengeance, but with kindness, because we know we were stronger than they were. Always.
So that’s why, for me, it’s Superman. Because of his secret power. Because of the secret power we all share, if we choose to embrace it.
That, and the heat vision.
MATTHEW CODYdivides his time between writing and teaching college English in New York City. His latest novel, Super, will be available in September 2012; his previous works include Powerless and The Dead Gentleman. Originally from the midwest, Matthew lives with his wife and young son in Manhattan.