My Dad's friend, Brent Grose, was one of those guys who picked on kids to show them he liked them. You know, the "there's something behind your ear" kinda guy, except ramped up times 50, like: "Come over here, you little sissy," and "When did you stop sucking your thumb?" Phrases to make a seven-year-old kid laugh, and help the grown man himself avoid saying anything that's overly emotional.
My brother and I were conflicted with the taunting: on one hand we liked it, because it played to our aggressive nature, but on the other it really annoyed us, because it made us feel stupid.
One night, when Brent was visiting at the house, he started in on my seven-year-old brother, Jeff. Jeff had--and still has--a pretty fierce temper, and taunting him in any aspect is more than likely to send him over the edge. Brent was pretty merciless that night, and Jeff was retaliating with some small left jabs and even bigger threats as Brent sat on the couch yapping it up. Suddenly, Jeff ran from the living room to his bedroom, where he stayed for a few moments. We all thought he'd given up. Until suddenly he re-emerged.
Wearing a Superman cape.
He jumped on top of Brent and let loose a flurry of right jabs and left crosses. And one connected, Hard. My kid brother had broken Brent's right jaw! It was one of those rare moments in life where kids are able to feel some sense of power in an otherwise powerless existence.
Jeff and I have laughed at that moment for almost thirty years.
The Superman cape didn't grant my brother super powers, of course. But it did make him feel as though he could have them. He was no longer a powerless seven-year-old; he was a kid with a Superman cape, fighting like Superman would fight.
He was new, and improved.
I tend to think most of us want to feel new and improved. I certainly did (and sometimes still do) as a kid. When I was ten or so I recall becoming so immersed in fantasy about being a super-hero that I really did, for a moment or two, believe I was. I was happy as the kid I was, but the idea of new and improved was hard for me to pass up.
Sometimes, the fantasy of being new and improved can't be reached, and we are forced to come to the conclusion that we are who we are. Nothing in life will be new, nor will it likely improve dramatically. That imaginary world of capes and heroic actions can still exist somewhere in our head, but it gets crowded out by real life issues like employment, taxes and complicated relationships.
I suppose the two worlds--the fantasy one, and one based in reality-- can (and often do) co-exist peacefully, if we choose to allow them to. Allowing conflict to exist between them, however, often brings angst, anxiety and depression.
Unchecked, those can be overwhelming, life changing emotions.
George Reeves, the star of The Adventures of Superman and the subject of the bio-pick Hollywoodland, couldn't reconcile the stardom he thought he deserved, and the real-life career for which he was destined. It's that conflict that serves as the plot for this better-than-average film. It reminds us that happiness comes from living in the moment, and from recognizing the small-yet-important aspects of our lives. It's when we look past those toward goals that are unrealistic and unatainable that we suffer most.