Most superhero origin stories start in warehouses with mysteriously bubbling vats of toxic waste, or laboratories containing strange-looking gadgets, or occasionally on other planets which are sometimes exploding.
Mine starts in English class. My sophomore year of high school, we read To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, and I loved it. I loved the quotes, I loved the story, and I loved Atticus Finch most of all.
So, I did what any ordinary, painfully nerdy, and utterly unremarkable fifteen-year-old would do: I asked God for Atticus Finch’s superpowers. Seriously. I prayed for three things from the book. Here’s the list, and my reasons behind wanting them.
The Ability to Feel
The part of the novel that stuck with me the most, is after the trial, when *spoiler* Atticus loses the case and Dill, Scout’s friend, bursts into tears at the injustice of it all. At that point, another character says, “Things haven’t caught up with that one’s instinct yet. Let him get a little older and he won’t get sick and cry. Maybe things’ll strike him as being—not quite right, say, but he won’t cry, not when he gets a few years on him.”
And he’s right. As we become adults, we become numb to suffering and injustice, dulled by cynicism, a stream of negative headlines, and a shortage of hope that things can be different. We can no longer mourn for strangers. To some degree that’s healthy, because if we tried to bear the burdens of the entire world, they would crush us.
Unless we ask for a little more strength. And I remember thinking, at fifteen, I don’t want things to catch up to me, not like that. I don’t want to lose the ability to get sick and cry.
I’m still not saying the answer to the question “Who, then, is my neighbor?” is every single person in distress. I went through a time when that absolutely paralyzed me. No, the parable of the good Samaritan is pretty clear on the point that your neighbor is the person God brings into your path and tells you to help. (more…)