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Heroes of All Sizes} ?> “Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is.” —Yoda, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
I was teenager attending Friday night youth group and the speaker was talking about the Biblical hero, Samson. He claimed that the hirsute judge of Israel didn’t resemble our muscle-bound superheroes of today, but rather: “He looked like… he looked like…” His eyes cast about and fell on me: “Tim!” He got his laugh, and yes, I was a fairly small, scrawny adolescent (and I still don’t take up a lot of real estate). But it was pivotal moment for me, because I understood his point: Samson derived his strength from the Spirit of God, not the size of his muscles, just as Yoda gained his power from the Force.
Quite a few modern superheroes reflect this dichotomy of unassuming alter-ego versus superhero persona. DC’s Captain Marvel? Eight-year-old Billy Batson transforms into the mighty hero by speaking a magic word (talk about wish fulfillment!). Marvel’s Hulk? Scientist Bruce Banner becomes the green goliath when he can no longer control his rage. The list goes on, but the pattern remains the same; the hero exists in a weak mortal form until a transformation occurs, whence he or she is suddenly revealed as the peak of physical perfection. (Admittedly, there are lots of superheroes who don’t follow this pattern: such as Superman or Thor, who possess their powers at all times, or Iron Man and Batman, who have no powers whatsoever, but that’s fodder for a different article.)
There’s a movement today called “Real Life Superheroes” where folks dress up in colourful costumes like their comic-book counterparts and try to help their communities. As much as I have—let’s be honest—considered joining their ranks, that’s not where I am finding my inspiration lately. And as much as I enjoy the abundant pervasiveness superheroes are currently enjoying in pop culture, the heroes—I would even daresay, “superheroes”—that inspire me today have more in common with the scrawny Samson and the tiny Yoda.
Emily was diagnosed with lupus at age nine, and the disease has been negatively impacting her function, feelings, and family ever since. As she shared her struggle at church, however, I found myself marveling at her resilience; this was a person who had the odds stacked against her, who had every reason to throw in the towel, to rail against the profound unfairness of it all, and yet she continues to construct a remarkable story of faith, courage, and perseverance. As she spoke, for the merest transcendent fraction of second, I was able to see her for who she truly was, and I goggled in awe. Unable to fully describe my experience, all I could do afterwards was give her a hug and tell her: “You are the strongest person I know.” She wasn’t able to accept that then, but it’s no less true now.
Lizzie Velasquez was scorned as the world’s ugliest woman, but when I heard her TEDx Talk, my eyes brimmed with tears. She was born with a rare disease that prevents her from gaining weight, and she spoke of the constant ridicule that she endured growing up; it reached a peak when her image became a hateful Internet meme. Lizzie used that notoriety to become an inspirational speaker, sharing her values of faith and community. Not fooled by her appearance, I closed my eyes as I listened to her video and HEARD how beautiful she is. I heard the voice of God, spoken through the World’s Bravest Woman—Lizzie is a real-life superhero. She is not amazing in spite of her weakness, but because of it.
Zack Anner has cerebral palsy and his own Youtube channel where he posts weekly videos. All of his “Top of the Monday” and “Workout Wednesdays” videos are chock-full of ridiculous motivational clichés and self-deprecating humour. In his video “Crawling Up a Mountain,” he offers these words of wisdom: “Whatever mountains you have to climb, remember: bring your friends… and bring your knee pads.” He has also just released an autobiographical book, If At Birth You Don’t Succeed. This is a man who has not made lemonade out of the lemons handed to him; he whipped up a meringue recipe and opened a pie shop! Zack may not look like a conventional superhero, but he has the heart of one.
Maickel Melamed is a 39-year-old Venezuelan man with muscular dystrophy. He just recently completed the Boston Marathon in a grueling 20-hour, last-place finish in order to bring attention to and fight against the disease. Nick Vujcic is an Australian evangelist and motivational speaker who was born with no arms or legs. Dominick Giaimo is a young man who stopped to help a Muslim change a tire when no one else would. Garry Epp is a retiree here in Winnipeg who’s been picking up litter in his neighbourhood for 13 years. These people have no special powers, no extraordinary skills, no fancy costumes, but make no mistake, they are heroes: “For a true hero is not measured by the size of his strength, but by the strength of his heart” (Zeus, Disney’s Hercules).
I long to be that “true hero”—desperately. Ask me on any given day on how I am measuring up, though, and I will probably tell you that I am one small lab accident away from super-villainy. In all honesty, I often forget to rely on what I have deemed my faith and thus find myself that much closer to villainy over heroism.
Aunt May has an amazing monologue in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2:
“Everybody loves a hero. People line up for them, cheer them, scream their names. And years later, they’ll tell how they stood in the rain for hours just to get a glimpse of the one who taught them how to hold on a second longer. I believe there’s a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble, and finally allows us to die with pride…”
Lizzie, Zack, Maickel, Nick, Dominick, Gary, and my friend Emily have all found that hero inside of themselves. I am humbled and awed by what they’ve done, and what they stand for, but most of all, by who they are. I hold them up to you now as my heroes, and challenge you find your own—in yourself, in the superhero stories that you love, and in the world around you.
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