Thursday, May 19, 2005

Fortress of Solitude

I watched the original Superman movie the other day. Though I'm becoming a nominal Superman fan, I'd never seen this original movie all the way through. I rented what I guess is the Extended Edition of it, just release recently on DVD, and really enjoyed it. Granted, Lois' spoken-word-poetry internal monologue was atrociously written, but the rest of the movie was pretty much great.

One sequence I found interesting occured after Jonathon Kent (Clark's dad, duh!) died of a heart attack. (For the record, yes, I was wiping away tears; it was a touching moment, gosh!) Clark finds the space ship Jonathon and Martha found him in, hidden away in the storm cellar, and pulls out a green crystal (which is apparently not kryptonite).

Suddenly, he knows what he must do. I mean, he just knows. He tells his mom, and she said that she knew the day would come, but feared it all the same. And he leaves, trekking northward toward... somewhere. The Arctic. The polar ice caps. Somewhere cold.

He throws the crystal, and out of the living ice grows a complex-looking, pointy structure of modern art. He walks in, touches some stuff, whatever, and Marlon Brando's disembodied head appears. Hi, kiddo. I'm your pop.

Brando--err, I mean, Jor-El, Clark (a.k.a. Kal-El)'s father, tells Clark what happened to his home planet, explains his mission, explains his powers, everything. Just spills. He transports Clark... somewhere in space. Not sure if it's some kind of out of body experience, or a physical transportation. Regardless, J-E says that when they return, 12 years will have passed.

Trippy special effects, music, and some dialogue later, and poof! Our little boy's all growns up.

Why am I recapping this? For this reason.

Clark travels to a distant and isolated place, tosses a rock into the ice, and is given all the answers he needed. When his self-education is done, he's a capable and confident adult.

Ever since I walked across the stage in Potter Auditorium, shook the university president's hand, and took my empty diploma folder from him, what I wanted, what I hoped for, was my own Fortress of Solitude, so to speak. Because no matter how much I had learned about Shakespeare and Faulkner and David Hume, I had learned even less about myself. My abilities. My destiny. God's Will for my life, and all that jazz.

In the three years since then, there have been times when I've wanted just that. Some place i can go, where all my questions will be answered and all my abilities revealed, and I will be shown what I'm supposed to do next, step-by-step.


What I believe, deep down, is that it's good I don't have that. Because a life of total foreknowledge is not a life of faith.

Something I considered, after watching the Superman Movie, is that Supes has a kind of shallowness, when it comes to his understanding of identity. What I mean is, he doesn't really seem to appreciate this kind of self-knowledge. He certainly doesn't have to struggle to get it (aside from his arctic hike). It isn't even the death of his father that causes him to search for it; it just seems to happen to him. Only when he nearly loses Lois does he experience the kind of self-doubt that forges his understanding of what being Superman means.

That's why I prefer watching "Smallville." (You knew it was coming.) Because in this version of the mythology, Clark is constantly struggling to understand who he is, where he came from, and what his place in the world should be. He has to decide whether his unique gifts carry a responsibility to the world around him. (Cue Peter's Uncle Ben.) And it's in this constant questioning that he finds himself.

In last night's season finale, Clark is given the key which will surely open up the Fortress of Solitude next season. And when it does, he will have earned the answers he's been searching for.

But back here in real life, I don't have a Fortress of Solitude. I don't have a "quick fix," where I can get all of my answers, and walk away a perfectly together, mature adult.

What I do have is a worthy struggle, though there are days when its worthiness is suspect.

What's even better is that I also have a Great Big God who will teach me through that struggle. And that's much better than some dumb fortress.

Because it makes me wait. It makes me trust. And when God shows me each new step, when he calls me out "to a country I know not" (and not in the guise of Brando's disembodied head, thankfully), I'll hopefully be ready to follow.

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