Courage. Honor. Loyalty. Sacrifice.
That is the mantra repeated over and over in one of my favorite graphic novels (the title being the title of this blog entry). It is, predictably, a Captain America book, and in it, Captain America has lost his physical abilities; his strength, speed, and endurance have faded. Worse, his body is almost totally collapsing, and doctors give him weeks, if not days, until his body fails entirely. But his mind works just fine – better, in fact. And so he undertakes one last mission. The story is told from the viewpoint of a Corporal , Jimmy Newman, in Afghanistan, fighting a war that scares and exhausts him, with no end in sight – until suddenly it appears Captain America is by his side, pushing him to go further, fight harder, be a hero. But on Corporal Newman can see Cap, and he disappears after aiding the Corporal. When Captain America appears next, he explains his situation to the Corporal.
Even though Captain America is dying, he can project his mind – through the use of some remote viewing technology – into the minds of others, like Corporal Newman. He can encourage others with his presence, even if he’s not physically there. He can help them unlock the courage they didn’t know they had, to fight the fear they feel. But doing so puts a terrible strain on Cap’s body, cutting short what little time he has left. But it’s important to Cap, because he knows that he can help these people. Where Project Rebirth created a super-soldier, what Captain America is doing – Project Multitude – is reaching out to dozens, even hundreds, of others, around the world, to summon the courage, honor, loyalty, and willingness to sacrifice to replace him. He knows that while the super-soldier serum might have made him super, it was those other qualities that made him the hero he is. And he knows the country – the world – needs more people who can follow in his footsteps. In the end, Captain America dies, but not before his words and example inspire Corporal Newman to truly heroic actions – and hopefully the same to the others he was reaching out to. The cover of the final issue of the mini-series, which I have a print of on my apartment wall, shows others taking up the burden Captain America leaves behind:
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Not just because I’m a big Captain America fan, though that helps But because these are the qualities I want to see in myself. The courage to face my fears and overcome them. Honor shown through honesty, fairness, and integrity in both word and action. Loyalty to friends, family, and others who might depend on me. The willingness to sacrifice for good causes. I think about this more now, as I am about to enter into a program to eventually get my Masters degree in Social Work, and hopefully go on to try and help others.
I know I’ve expressed a number of fears recently, and some people I know were worried, and justifiably so, that these fears might be problematic and difficult to overcome – and that the inability to overcome my fears might be a big obstacle to going into the field of social work. How can I hope to help others with their problems, if I have such fears of my own? That worries me, too, but I also know that having fears is normal. Again, referring to the Captain America mini-series, one of the things he keeps talking about is his own fear. The fears that have dogged him since he agreed to start the program that would turn him into a super-soldier. What if I fail? What if I let the people who are counting on me down? What if I have sacrificed all I have for nothing? Captain America notes that he has never been without fear, because he knows that even when he had his abilities, he was still human – a man at the peak of human ability (and in Marvel terms, that’s apparently pretty far beyond what we think of), yes, but still a man. He wasn’t immortal like the gods (not God; Marvel’s universe does include God, and there are several tiers of lesser, but still godlike to ‘mere mortals’, beings below him; this is covered in philosophical detail in chapter 14 of The Avengers and Philosophy: Earth’s Mightiest Thinkers, true believers) he has fought alongside, or invincible like some of his fellow heroes; he never had the healing factor of Wolverine, or the incalculable strength of the Hulk. He was just a very well-trained man fighting against powers that could threaten cities, nations, worlds – even the universe itself, on occasion. On a strict power basis, Captain America is outclassed by almost every supervillain he has ever faced – and yet he never gives in to his fear.
My fears are real, yes. And they do scare me. That’s just how life works. Everybody is afraid of something; anybody who say differently is lying or having some severe issues. But if (the admittedly fictional) Captain America can face things that could destroy the universe – as well as, at various times, his own death, being stripped of his name, having to watch the people he grew up with die, and a whole host of other things, can I do any less than face my fears? I don’t aspire to be Captain America – for one, he’s fictional, and for another, I don’t think my body could take that kind of physical conditioning – but I do think the ideals that he espouses are worthy ones. And I have a sincere desire to try and help others through the kinds of things I have had to face with mental health, to make a difference in the life of at least one – and hopefully many more than that – life because I learned something that I can use to show someone who is hurting, depressed, lonely, and maybe even suicidal that things don’t have to be like that – that they can get better. I don’t think my fears will go away, but I do believe that I can face them. And I think that if I do, I’ll be a better person for it.
Having a Captain America shield on the wall is a mighty good reminder, though.