Batman

June 5, 2011 § 18 Comments

Inside a superhero's laundry basket

A couple of months ago at breakfast, Oliver asked me for a Batman story. I almost spit out my coffee. “Batman?” I asked. “How do you know Batman?”

“Daddy told me a Batman story last night,” he said.

“Oh really,” I said. What I meant was, You go to a Waldorf school, kid. You probably don’t want to be talking to your teachers about that. Superheros, to me, were about violence and destruction and bringing down the enemy. It was a little too much like living in DC.

When I asked Scott about it later, he looked at me funny. “What’s wrong with Batman?” he asked. “He’s a cool guy. He fights crime and takes care of Gotham City.”

“What is Batman’s story anyway?” I asked.

“He’s just a normal guy,” said Scott, “Who puts on a suit to become Batman.”

“Well yeah,” I said, “But what’s the story behind that? Is he from another planet, or does he have bionic powers? Does he fly?”

“No,” Scott said patiently. “He’s just a man. With no powers. And he puts on a suit.”

“That’s it?” I asked. “Well, where’s the superhero part?”

Scott shrugged. “He’s Batman.”

That night, I listened to the next installment of the Batman story. During which Batman encounters the Joker robbing a jewelry store and proceeds to get on a super deluxe Bat Mountain Bike to catch the robber and restore order to Gotham City. Rather than remind me of DC Comics, Scott’s story reminded me of Joseph Campbell, of The Power of Myth and of Star Wars. The battle of dark and light and good and evil that I so often wrestle with.

Recently, I noticed – with a fair amount of horror – that sometimes, I try to change Oliver’s behavior not because it is wrong or inappropriate or hurting anyone, but because it reminds me too much of my own. I don’t know when I realized this. I think it might have been at dinner, when he got up in the middle of the meal to change his fork, “because the pasta made it a little dirty.” Or maybe, it was the other day when we were reading and Oliver was drumming his hands, his right and left ones making identical patterns on the table. I tried to distract him with a high five because I saw too clearly, my own anxious nature dancing through him. He’s afraid to learn to tie his shoes and put his face in the water and of taking the training wheels off his bike. Trying anything new with Oliver is like getting a wild animal to take seeds from your palm. You go very slowly. You prepare for the worst. You know at some point, he will run away and pull the blankets over his head.

In short, Oliver is very much like me.

That night, while Scott was telling the boys another Batman story, it became startling clear to me that I dislike my inner Bruce Wayne so much that I am unable to embrace anyone else’s, even my son’s. Especially my son’s.  Please, I was really saying, when I went to stop Oliver’s drumming fingers. Don’t be like me. Here. Put on this cape. Be Batman. Be invincible so that nothing bad will ever happen to you.

But what superhero doesn’t have an alter ego? I was listening to an interview with Jack Kornfield – SuperMeditator – the other day in the car and he was talking about freedom. He said, “True liberation is the freedom to be who you are and not someone else. To hold yourself with compassion and say ‘This too, this too.’ It doesn’t mean you don’t have your stuff. But it’s about letting all that in along with the good.”

Last week in my yoga teacher training I realized that I didn’t necessarily want to teach yoga. Instead, I wanted to be like a yoga teacher, especially my teacher Jessica, in California. She is tiny and beautiful. She wears gauzy sweaters and knows the stories behind all of the Hindu gods and goddesses. She reads poetry before class and then kicks our butts until we are wrung out.

It’s possible that I might have thought that I would sign up for my own teacher training, put on a gauzy sweater, and become Jessica Anderson. It’s possible, that I have been having a difficult time with this teacher training because that hasn’t happened yet. It’s possible that I believe that transformation means that I will become someone else, someone brighter and shinier and Better with a capital B.

After one of the sessions last week, I walked out with one of Rolf’s assistants, who owns a yoga studio in Georgetown and is herself an amazing yoga teacher. I confessed that I was having a challenging time trying to integrate what we learned into a yoga class. Patty narrowed her eyes at me. “Remember,” she said, ” All you have to do is read the script. That’s all we asked you to do.” I sighed. I was trying to do more than that. I was trying to use everything we learned and add it to something that was already perfect. Patty jabbed her finger into my sternum.”Your problem is that you aren’t OK with where you are,” she said. “And you need to be. Because that’s where you are.”

I walked away feeling simultaneously horrified and relieved. Horrified that I was still Clark Kent. Relieved that I didn’t have to be Superman. Patty is tough. She isn’t warm and fuzzy and she doesn’t wear gauzy sweaters. But after I talked to her, I realized that what she gave me was a big dose of compassion. Just be who you are, she was telling me, not someone else.

Compassion. That’s the real magic cape. The secret ingredient. The happy ending. The Margot Kidder of all emotions. The way Lois Lane always looked at Clark Kent, as if there was something familiar behind those glasses.

The hell of the Superman story (at least in the ancient movie I remember) is that Clark Kent never does remove his glasses and allow Lois Lane to see him. Instead, he puts on a cape. But perhaps, true transformation it is less about putting on a magic suit (or a gauzy sweater) and more about removing the layers. It’s about being okay with being not quite okay. It is a nod to all of the mess. This too. Yes. This too.

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§ 18 Responses to Batman

  • LINDSEY says:

    Oh, yes … I see myself in Grace and it terrifies me – it’s like looking into that mirror and hating what I see. I actually remember this in my mother, sometimes, though it was the parts of my dad that are animate in me that she seemed to dislike seeing (the parts of him that are melancholy and, I think, to her, have made him sad). Anyway … I love this too. This too. I must get some Jack Kornfield in my rotation!! xox

  • I’ve just read the last paragraph four times. I think it may be the most profound meditation on transformation that I’ve ever seen. Yes: removing the layers takes such courage. Again and again, here, you inspire the rest of us with your bravery. Magnificent post my friend.

  • Colleen Fleming says:

    Yes-This too!! I love it. Great post. Thank you.
    And, my son went to Waldorf school and now my niece just started Waldorf in Escondido.
    Thank you for the reminder to remove the layers. I love yoga and everything about it, except I sometimes hate how the poses feel in my body, but if I remove the layers and the wants and desires and just be with myself I love it even more.
    Keep sharing your truth-it is great to read,
    Colleen

  • Christa says:

    Yes. It’s about shining your own light, about being vulnerable enough to share who you are, about the strength you find under the layers.

    And what is under your cape, my dear friend, is pure good.

    This is so lovely, and so true. Thank you.

  • So inspiring! I love that you discovered this about yourself. What you said about doing the yoga teacher training really struck a cord with me too as I do that myself with most every class I take.
    Thanks for the honesty. Soooooo glad I found your blog! 🙂

  • Christine says:

    My experience is the same but different. I think it’s because I see so much of myself in my oldest son that I cater to his insecurities. My husband gets so irritated by his emotion, his sensitivities, whilst I tend to feed them and allow him to be motivated by his feelings. I do this because no one did it for me. I think it’s a balance we both strike, but it can be a difficult one to walk.

    I agree with Katrina, this is a powerful reflection. So much of it resonates with me, as I struggle to shed the my own insecurities in favour of the real me. Have you read The Happiness Project. Gretchen talks about her tenedency to see how others are and to think that’s how she wants to be, until one day she realizes that even though those characteristics are desirable, they aren’t her. It’s a realization that hit me in the gut.

  • Ari says:

    Yes. Yes. Removing the layers. Open up and be yourself. You are at home. This whole world is your home.
    You know I love it when you write about transformation.
    Thank you for your beautiful writing.

  • My daughter’s behavior is at times so confounding and challenging. And yet, when I peel back a layer and look a little deeper I see that she is me and I can relate so completely to her fears and her worldview. And if I can respond with compassion and acceptance and courage, then I can heal a small piece of myself too. Often I fail, but I keep trying.

    Thanks for this post.

  • Batman is a very dark hero. He witnesses both his parents killed by a bad guy when he is little (Harry Potter takes a cue from this ancient orphan trope as well); thus he is perpetually avenging the death of his parents (or perhaps wrestling the primitive Oedipal stirrings of early life impotent rage and anxious dependency).

    I think your raccoon keeps showing up (masked figures of the night).

    I remember hearing Peter Guber (the producer of the Batman films) talk at a friend’s business class at UCLA—he freely confessed that he’d been abused as a child, and this was why he connected so deeply to the Batman story—one that no one at the studios thought would make a hit movie. He deferred his salary and took profit participation instead (and reaped 60 million on the first movie alone).

    The gold is in the shadows and the shit 🙂

  • Alana says:

    Any comment feels superfluous after reading what others have already said but I wanted to leave a note anwyay. Once again, you’ve taken my breath away with your words and your insights. That someone that you are (that I am, that she is) is absolutely worth being.

  • Juanita says:

    As Shrek said about the onion, right? It’s all about the layers indeed 🙂

  • Anne says:

    Completely hilarious and painfully true. All of it. I’m afraid to let my son be himself, which is also, somehow, a little like my husband and myself. Particularly the qualities we are uncomfortable with.
    The bit about the yoga teacher training had me laughing. While the examples are different, the psychology is my strategy to keep from buying more and more beauty products. I have to ask myself, after looking at an impossibly perfect face, “will I look like her?” The answer is always a loud ‘no’.
    I believe that I too, try to imitate scenarios. Lovely post!

  • Kathy says:

    You take an experience and you make it poetic…beautiful prose.

  • I was sent here via Lindsey’s blog and I will be back! You are a beautiful writer!

  • Wow, Pamela. Wow wow wow. When I read a post that is just so eloquent and beautiful, I find that hold my breath. Now that I’ve finished reading your inspired and glorious words, I am pulling air back into my lungs. Wow.

    I can relate to this post so much because I often find that I am not ok with where I am. Such a powerful reminder, to sit with the mess. xo

  • […] ruminating about it recently after reading some powerful, everyday stories by other bloggers I admire. I realized I’ve written so few stories about my boys here. As I thought about it, trying to […]

  • […] (whose writing and reflections are a constant gift) wrote a post months ago which still stays with me today. She […]

  • […] other night in yoga, Patty, the owner of the studio had us do one-legged planks and chaturangas (push-ups) for the first […]

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