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Lessons Learned from a Real-Life Superhero

Written by on 04 Feb 2014

I still remember the first time I met My Superhero.

It was the summer of 2008. I had just landed in Rome for a summer study-abroad. Our flight arrived at 7a.m. that morning after a 9-hour trip from Dallas.

I slept zero of those nine hours.

After a sweat-inducing, mile-long walk from the train station to the piazza, I spent the following eight hours trying to stay awake as the other students trickled into town. One by one they arrived, all in much the same state.

Sweaty.

Tired.

And generally discontent.

Apparently an overnight flight, a lack of sleep, and a mile-long walk in the heat have the same effect on everyone, myself included.

Well, except for her.

I still remember the first time I met My Superhero.

While the other students arrived breathing heavily from the walk, wearing pajama-like travel clothes in various states of disarray, and swearing about the cobblestones’ effects on their rolling suitcases, she arrived differently.

She arrived… heroically.

She appeared around the fountain in the center of the piazza. Despite the long walk, she had not one visible drop of sweat. Her short hair was down, perfectly framing her smiling face. She was wearing black flats, light jeans, and a flowing tank top which could not have been more perfect for this Italian summer afternoon. With one hand, she was pulling one of the largest suitcases imaginable with the greatest of ease. And with the other hand, she was effortlessly carrying…

Wait… what is that?

No… it can’t be…

A baby?!

Yep, that’s a baby.

Seriously?!

Temporary superhero status-- granted.

Turns out, My Superhero wasn’t actually a student, but rather, a student’s spouse.

In order to be eligible to travel to Rome for the summer, every student had to complete a semester-long course in Roman history. Somehow, despite the previous semester spent studying together, I had missed the fact that one of my classmates was a married father. Between finals and our flight departures, he had managed to get the powers-that-be to allow him to bring both his wife and his toddler with him to Italy.

And, boy, did that woman make a first impression!

Not only had My Superhero navigated an otherwise stressful (and sweat producing) day with grace and presence, but she had done it while carrying a baby.

A baby!

As far as I was concerned, she might as well have been balancing a bucket of water on her head or spinning plates in her hands.

That would have been equally as difficult but nowhere near as impressive.

I still remember the first time I met My Superhero.

At first, I couldn't imagine how or why she would ever have anything to do with me.

After all, I was a member of the sweat-covered, poorly-dressed, luggage-cursing majority. I had given up on my hair hours earlier. I could barely keep my eyes open. The butt of my white pajama pants had been stained black from hours spent sitting on the dirty steps of the piazza fountain.

In short, I was a mess.

But I wasn’t just a physical mess—I was an emotional mess. It was as if my sweaty hair and stained clothes were a proxy for my disheveled spirit. It wasn’t until I saw her—hair, poise, baby, and all—that I realized just how messy I had gotten.

Here’s how.

I know not everyone will be able to understand the intricacies of growing up in Texas. But I do know that everyone can understand growing up with a certain set of expectations for the future. No matter what these expectations may be, whether they are explicit or implicit, spoken or unspoken, they have inevitable ripple effects on who we become and how we approach life.

My set of expectations was to a) get a scholarship, b) go to college, c) find a man, d) graduate from college, e) marry that man, f) have babies, and g) live happily ever after.

In that order. No substitutions. And, certainly, no deviations.

Let me start off by saying that there is nothing wrong with this life or this order.

Nothing.

I know a lot of people who live wonderfully happy lives doing all of these things in just this order. They are, after all, wonderful things to do with a life.

What is wrong is the manner in which these expectations are communicated.

What is wrong is how people are treated based on them. What is wrong is how people feel when they don’t comply with them. What is wrong is how people internalize and utilize them to make conclusions about the rest of the world.

What is wrong is the internal mess it creates.

On the outside, I had dutifully completed A, B, and C.

But on the inside, I was really struggling with my current C.

For the second time in my life, I was venturing into the world of long-distance relationships, and for the second time in my life, it was not going well.

I’ll go ahead and pause here for the collective sigh (or vomit) that follows any mentioning of long-distance relationships. It’s inevitable, so just get it out now before we keep going. But please, stay with me here, because this isn’t the usual Dear John-esque long-distance story.

This story is about beliefs and expectations.

I had come to believe that my life would be defined and ultimately complete, by the addition of another person. In my case, by a particular man. A man who would be my husband, my everything, my world. My other half.

More accurately, my missing half.

What does it mean to tell someone they need to be looking for their missing half? It means they are lacking without it. It means they are wanting without it. It means they are incomplete without it.

More accurately, it says they are unfulfilled without it.

That particular summer, I found myself unfulfilled.

But I just couldn’t quite see why.

But you know who could see why? That’s right—My Superhero!

And you know how? Right, again—super powers!

Her superpowers of choice, you ask? X-Ray vision (clearly), telepathy (you read my mind), and all-knowing wisdom (absolutely).

All puns intended.

I still remember the first time I really met My Superhero.

Weeks later, I found myself sitting on another set of dirty stairs in another hot piazza. I was struggling with my lack of fulfillment and berating myself for letting my relationship pull me away from my time in Italy.

In short, I was still a mess.

Then, out of the blue, along came My Superhero.

Her X-ray vision showed her my internal state of disarray. Her telepathy told her why I was having a hard time. Her all-knowing wisdom gave her just the right words to say to calm my soul.

She explained that no one person would be my everything or complete me. No one person would be my total fulfillment. I was already finished, complete, fulfilled.

She knew this, because she had thought the same thing about her husband. Her set of expectations had promised that a husband would be her ultimate fulfillment. And while she found that he was in fact most things to her, he could not be everything to her. As her disenchantment grew, she found herself in a similar state of disarray.

Even My Superhero had wondered why she felt so unfulfilled.

She pulled a small ring from her pinky finger. Carved on it in Hebrew were the words, ”I am my beloved, and my beloved is mine.” She gave it to me and said,

I still remember the first time I met my superhero.

She gave me this ring and now I want to give it to you. It should remind you that you are a complete, fulfilled child of God. You are your beloved and your beloved is yours. Other people will be there for you in various ways, but no one person will ever be everything or every way.

And that’s ok.

Because you’re enough.

She showed me the answer I couldn’t see. She shared lessons learned with openness and vulnerability. She taught me that the notion that I would be incomplete and unfulfilled without another person in my life was matched in its misguidedness only by the notion that another person in my life would be my only completion and my only fulfillment.

Even Superheros need other Superheros.

In that moment, she was mine.

Who is yours?

**********

What superpower do you have to share? Who in your life has been Your Superhero, knowing or seeing you better than you could know or see yourself?

I believe that every greatness we enjoy right now can be traced back to one person, conversation, or observation that provided a turning point in our lives. I’d love to hear if you believe this, too.

Did this story resonate with you? Or did it make you think of a story of your own? Share your story or your reaction in the comments below.

Because sharing stories an instinctual, powerful way to touch the hearts of others and change the world around us.


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