For the past fourteen years, the heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been a constant in my life. With two boys coming of age as the 34 movies in this franchise were released, I spent many, if not most, of their birthdays from ages 8 to 18 sitting in a darkened theater watching the latest Marvel superhero save the day. For the movies I missed, my younger son caught me up one summer as we watched them all in chronological order. (Okay, we skipped The Incredible Hulk with his blessing.)
What surprised me along the way was how much I enjoyed these films, how invested I became in the characters, and how I experienced an emotional response to the stories unfolding on the big screen. I always thought I favored rom-coms or period pieces, but watching Endgame in a theater filled with mesmerized movie-watchers, including a row of enthralled 17-year-olds, was the penultimate movie-watching experience of my life. I gasped, I cheered, I hoped, I despaired, I wept with sorrow, and I sobbed with joy. Think I’m exaggerating? Ask my husband, who was sitting to my right.
What moved me so? It wasn’t one character, one superpower, or one storyline. Rather, it was how the films conveyed the power of presence—the characters were stronger when they worked together. When they chose to go it alone, trouble followed. So, time and again, I watched as these heroes—some with supernatural abilities and others with enhanced weapons—recognized that their greatest asset in the face of battle wasn’t found in their power or props but rather in the strength and solidarity of their allies.
Maybe it’s just the season I’m in…seven months out from losing my dad, an empty nester missing my sons like crazy, a daughter learning how to care for a mother who doesn’t think she needs care…but I am feeling fairly downhearted and often alone.
I deeply long for a hero—not a hero with supernatural strength, x-ray vision, or a sonic scream, but an ally infused with the power of presence.
Sometimes this quest feels elusive, yet my encounters with such goodness in the recent past remind me to take heart.
I recall a longtime friend standing in the doorway of my parents’ house. The sun illuminated her from above, making her appear radiant. She wore her nurse scrubs and carried a small bag of supplies that would enable her to administer an IV of fluids to my ailing father. As she approached him, a man that she had known for more than fifteen years, a flash of shock passed over her face as she saw how feeble he had become. Then, she spoke to him with warmth and tenderness as she deftly inserted a needle into his thin arm and released the restorative fluids. Next, she called me close to teach me how to withdraw the needle when the bag emptied. Noting the fear in my voice, she assured me that I only need call and she would return.
I think of the hospice chaplain, not yet 30 years old, who joined my mother and me on the back patio and skillfully began to ask my mom questions about Dad. In no time she accomplished what the social worker twice her age could not manage—Mom was reflective and engaged, telling stories about Dad, how they met, how playful he was, and how much fun life with him had been. At times, Mom’s frankness caught the young woman off guard, and she erupted in laughter at something Mom had said. Her questions returned a mischievous prankster of a husband and father to us, and her laughter released a wave of joy over us that buoyed our spirits.
I remember my husband coming to stand beside me at the kitchen counter as I tremulously withdrew a bottle of morphine and a syringe from a box of medicines. The hospice nurse had taught me how to administer this medication to Dad, but now that he needed it, my hands violently shook as I worked to prepare the dose. Tears welled in my eyes and obscured my sight as I tried to pull the liquid into the syringe. Tim gently placed his hand upon mine and took the bottle and syringe from me. With the calm assurance that it was okay, he completed the task, lovingly giving my dad the much-needed medicine.
No, these heroes didn’t save the world from a supervillain, an extraterrestrial invasion, or utter annihilation, but they did save me. By the power of their presence, I found help in a time of great need; I experienced joy in a time of deep grief; I received care in a time of profound exhaustion; and I found salvation in the power of their presence. Because of them, and other good and generous souls like them, I can continue to hold hope for a hero. And I hope to be a hero to others too…by offering my care, my goodness, my strength, and, most of all, my very presence.
Susan Tucker is a lifelong lover of story, and with curiosity and openness, she often explores in her writing the tension that life holds. A former English teacher, Susan loves meaningful use of language, especially when used to stir the soul and whet one’s appetite for more truth, goodness, and beauty. Compelled by a burgeoning interest in trauma recovery, she pursued training at The Allender Center, completing the Certificate in Narrative Focused Trauma Care, Level I and Level 2. Susan and Tim, her husband of 27 years, are the parents of two sons, now young adults, and adjusting to their newly empty nest.nbsp