Little Bobby lived just down the street from his aged, paternal Grandpa. As often as he could, he would run down to the old house to chat, drink lemonade and as his grandpa called it, “teeter-totter” on one of the the old, rickety rocking chairs that had called the front porch home for more than thirty-eight years.
Time had ravaged his Grandpa’s face, and he looked as if every day of his life had been permanently chiseled into his skin, leaving no trace of a once handsome young man. His bright eyes were now cloudy, like an unforgiving sky before a snowstorm, and his gait was unsteady like that of a young child just learning to take its first steps.
He had done his job raising a son, and took some comfort in believing that he had done the best he could. He was a proud father, and tried to understand that his son had his own life now with his work and a wife and a son, but his standing as patriarch of the family was long ago lost to time and indifference…indifference to everyone except Little Bobby.
There was a remarkable, inexplicable bond between him and Little Bobby. It had been that way since the day he was brought home from the hospital. How his Grandpa wished his Grandma could have seen him. She had gone up to Heaven before Little Bobby was born, but Grandpa kept her memory alive with stories. Little Bobby didn’t really understand death and its finality but he understood the wonderful stories that his Grandpa told him.
Grandpa would tell him things about his Grandma and say, “see? Now you have a memory of her. Memories are one of the most valuable gifts you can ever receive, and as long as someone remembers you…you will never be forgotten.”
One day Little Bobby went running down to his Grandpa’s house. When he got there, he was clutching something in his hand, and was completely out of breath.
“Goodness,” Grandpa said. “Come sit down and tell me what’s got you so excited.”
“Look!” Little Bobby said, as he opened his hand. “Well, what in tarnation have you got there?” Grandpa asked.
Little Bobby said, “It’s an action figure. He’s called Iron Man. He’s a superhero called an ‘Avenger’.”
“You don’t say,” Grandpa said with a smile.
“There’s a lot of Avengers,” Little Bobby said. “There’s Iron Man. I think his real name is Tommy Shark. Then there’s Thor. He has a big hammer. There’s a guy who shoots arrows and never runs out. There’s Captain America. He has a shield. There’s this big green man they call the Hulp, and there’s some lady that just hangs around in black clothes.”
Grandpa smiled and said, “I think the woman you’re talking about is called ‘The Black Widow’. Iron Man’s real name is Tony Stark, and Bruce Banner is called the Hulk. There are some who have wings, and some can move things around with their minds.”
Little Bobby’s eyes widened as he said, “how do you know all that stuff Grandpa?”
Grandpa laughed and said, “why, those superheroes were around in my day, but they weren’t on the big screen in movie houses. They were on the pages of comic books.”
“What’s a comic book?” asked Little Bobby.
“Comic books were like little magazines,” Grandpa said. “We couldn’t wait until the next one came out. Those superheroes were always fighting the good fight…protecting the human race and wiping out the bad guys.”
Grandpa looked at Little Bobby and said, “you do know that those superheroes are fictional characters, don’t you? They were created from someone’s imagination many years ago, and then brought back to life in big Hollywood blockbuster movies.”
“They’re not real?” Little Bobby asked with disappointment in his voice.
“No, they’re not,” Grandpa said. “The superheroes you know, like the one you have in your hand…always win. They always save the world. Their shields never tarnish. They never run out of arrows.”
“But there are real superheroes out there. They don’t smile and pose for pictures. They don’t pretend to care so that you will admire them, and they don’t expect praise. They don’t only appear when there is a possibility of some sort of catastrophe.”
“Real life superheroes have always been there, guarding and protecting with the watchful eye of a warrior. They get no medals, no awards, no standing ovations or monuments of their likeness in the town square. They get no movies made about them.”
“The real superheroes don’t always win. They are mortal. They can get hurt. They can feel pain. They can cry. They can die.”
“Most of them are unsung heroes, and are always in the background. They are the ones who protect you when you are small, like you. They are the ones who pick you up when you fall down. They are the ones who comfort you when you are sick. They are the ones who make sure that you have what you need to grow up and have a good life. They don’t have a flashy name or a flamboyant costume or an impervious shield.”
Little Bobby sat and listened to his Grandpa. Finally, he asked…”well how do you know the difference?”
Grandpa said, “The real superheroes are the ones whose shields are invisible and are battered and broken, and stained with blood and tears. More often than not, the real superheroes have been forgotten, and whether seen or unseen, acknowledged or unacknowledged, appreciated or unappreciated…they have left an indelible mark.”
“Look for the ones with scars and then…you will have found a true superhero.”