I once saw a Dustin Hoffman movie called “Hero.” He played a man who made the first heroic gesture of his life when he inadvertently and begrudgingly rescued passengers after a plane crash and he disappeared. It was a very popular film because everyone loves a hero. But these days, we are programmed to expect more than that. We are expected to love a Super Hero. This is what we see in the movies now, beings who have special powers beyond normal capabilities, generally known for flight, strength and speed.Batman, Spiderman, Superman, Cat Woman and Wonder Woman.
I see “super hero” invincibility in figure skaters, ballet dancers and gymnasts who fly, twist, and put up with pain without complaint. Before Covid, I used to work out in a gym for elite female athletes. I wasn’t doing gymnastics. My talented trainer, Orlando, just happened to rent
out space and conduct his sessions there and I did a regular person’s workout. I have to say that I was slightly intimidated by the little girls when I first showed up. I had been an athlete myself when I danced professionally in my youth, but that was a long time ago. It didn’t help when one of the girls approached Orlando, gestured toward me and asked, “Is that your grandmother?” So mean. I was a woman in my sixties being bullied by a teenager. I laughed,the only response that seemed to make sense and I put my attention on my workout.
Eventually, the girls got used to my being there and I loved watching them. While I was doing crunches, stretching and lifting light weights, they were walking on their hands, spinning on the uneven bars, pushing off the vault, flipping in the air, conquering the balance beam, trying to dismount without injuring themselves and practicing a
host of strengthening and agility exercises. During my sessions, any time I felt tired or bored, all I had to do was look up and see someone flying through the air.
It was miraculous that they could perform the ridiculous things they did on a daily basis. I watched them soar and I watched them fall hard hard. I watched them train with a cast on one leg, I saw them fall off the beam, bruise their thighs, cry out in pain and frustration and get back on the beam. It reminded me of my ballet training. I pretty much grew up in a dance studio, practicing all day long, spinning and balancing on the tips of my toes, so I felt strangely at home in the gymnastics gym. The competitive atmosphere among the girls who were both opponents and friends was familiar to me and so was striving for impossible perfection. I performed on a sprained ankle and when I had the flu. I performed when I was exhausted from months of one night stands, touring across the United States in a bus, crying because I was lonely and I felt that I just wasn’t good enough. I starved and bled, leapt and pirouetted, stained and sprained, all with a beatific smile on my face.
The more I watched the girls flying high and risking injury, the more I began to see them as super heroes with super powers. Performing physical feats like we see in the Olympics is profoundly difficult and courageous. It takes a certain kind of person to show up every day for hours, get home schooled and endure being put through the wringer by their coaches. These are all the earmarks of a present day super hero.
But what about someone who transcends the physical and accomplishes mental and emotional feats that are just as difficult? Someone in a wheel chair who doesn’t act like a victim. Caring for
someone who is ill or dying. Writing a book, defying the inner critic and taking it all the way to “The End.” Learning to have compassion for yourself. Fighting back when someone is intimidating you. Staying present when you’re feeling so much, you can hardly stand it. Doesn’t that take super powers, too?
Whatever you did earlier in your life, it can translate into what you’re doing now. When I look beyond the rehearsing and performing that I did, when I think about hanging up my pointe shoes, I still have the extreme discipline I gained from being a ballet dancer. I never missed
a day of rehearsal in all the years I danced. It was a way of life that I
adopted and ingested and it got me to class every morning. Now it helps me get to the computer. It used to keep me in the studio all day. Now it helps me keep my butt on the chair. It used to keep me moving when all I wanted to do was lie down. Now it keeps me writing whether I feel inspired or not. It used to help me dance ‘til I dropped. Now it helps me conquer writer’s block. It used to help me keep a tight schedule, going to bed early and showing up at the studio every morning. Now I sleep and eat well, the things that are necessary to live
a good life.
Great athletes say they are great because they work harder than anyone else. It takes the same dedication to be good at anything. I’m so used to the discipline I built when I was young, sometimes I stop noticing it. But a little mindfulness reminds me, not how good I am or that I’m better than anyone else, but rather how grateful I am that I
have something I love to do and I can make a living at it. So few people manage it, it feels like a super power.
If you look deep inside yourself, there is a superpower living there, even if you can’t see it. You don’t have to be an athlete, a power ranger or a ninja. Most likely, your greatest accomplishments are not so dramatic or obvious. But they mean as much. Maybe you’re extremely compassionate with other people. Maybe you can listen so well,
it heals someone. Maybe you feed hungry people or you have an extraordinary ability to make people laugh in the toughest circumstance like my friend, Rhoni, who excels in both.
In my opinion, the greatest superpower of all, the hardest thing to accomplish is acceptance: Of your life as it is. Of how you look. Of how you go about your day. Of letting people be themselves. Of sitting in traffic without swearing. Of letting a car in front of you slow down without honking your horn. All of the above require discipline and super powers to pull off.