There is the touch of the divine in many American folktales. Paul Bunyan, that famous woodsman, was born with a full beard; John Henry had a hammer in his hand at birth which made the people smile. These men were the super heroes of their time period, lending their strength to people when tough times arose, as a new country was explored and developed.
Many of today’s super heroes, like Batman, were orphans who rose above adversity to fight for the good. Super heroes and folk heroes, in my mind, were designed especially for orphans. Now there is, no doubt, a little orphan in us all, especially among the hobo set. Orphaned or dead to their families, certainly orphaned to a mainstream society that seems to be creating more orphans everyday.
I am especially touched by the John Henry story. He drove spikes on a railroad gang, back in the late 1800’s. His heart eventually exploded beating a steam powered drill tunneling through a mountain. He was a family guy and his wife Lucy worked along side him and they brought their son with them everywhere.
It has been downhill for the working class ever since. Men who like to work find themselves with nothing to do but watch as machines do everything, not only in factories, but on the farms as well.
Imagine yourself an orphan, cut off from your family at an early age then to an orphanage or several, then foster homes or several, never finding anyone or anywhere to latch onto and call your own. Their imagination is naturally drawn to superheroes, men and women with the power and skill to help them through the dark in their lives.
I met many kids like that back in my social work days, one little guy stands out in my memory. He couldn’t have been more than seven, very kind, very playful. He would talk to a Spiderman poster in his room at night. A couple of weeks after he arrived, I was waiving goodbye to him and his brother. You could see the fear and panic grip them as they drove off with a social worker they barely knew to live with people they had never met. Breaks my heart thinking about it.
Well the immortal Gods are supposed to reflect our own immortality and we all have our burdens and challenges in this rich endeavor we call life. A hero is nothing more than someone who mirrors your own inner strength that you didn’t realize you had. They are especially important to orphans as family replacements, imaginary fathers and mothers tucking them in at night and seeing to their safety.
Perhaps the greatest Western hero, Jesus Christ, mirrors our own inner light and his teachings are our handbook for discovering our true nature. Christ, father to orphans and hobos, father to us all.