Superman Grows Old

I have come, belatedly, to realize that I am not Superman. I cannot fix things with super strength, I cannot mend them with laser vision, I cannot fly away from my problems or leap over tall buildings to avoid dealing with trifling annoyances. I must admit that I find it humbling to realize that I am incapable of finding a brown 21″ waxed shoelace to replace the one that I snapped with a bit of mere mortal strength. And that I find it quite impossible to drag myself to the BMW dealer to pay $300 to replace my car key because the remote locking function went Ka-blooey! when it encountered some immovable object (likely a 9 iron). Similarly, I find it increasingly difficult to get up at 5:55 to go for what used to be a jaunty 6 miler over hill and dale. My appetite is off, my hair is brittle, the bloom is off the rose. If that doesn’t suggest to you that I have been exposed to kryptonite, then let me add that I find it virtually impossible to get up at all on Saturdays, even with the scent of bacon in the air. My back hurts. I am no longer bulletproof.

The question of what happens to Superman as he ages was never dealt with, you know. Does he age at all if left on Sol to operate by solar power? Do his powers fade with time? Does he achieve a sort of “super” senescence that is like the hip vibe of the World’s Most Interesting Man, but lasts forever? Is that why he ducked out on Lois Lane? Did he have a premonition a la Highlander that Lois would age and die while he mulled over man’s fate forever like The Thinker stuck atop Mt. Doom?

In my own case, I suspect that I’m simply tired of the cape and the tights. Catwoman’s gone, Linda Blair has disappeared, I Dream of Jeannie re-runs have grown increasingly scarce, and hardly anyone knows who Chet Baker is. My own little Supergirls, in the indestructibility of youth, don’t understand Bogart and Bacall, are confused by poverty, and blithely inform me that they want Tesla roadsters for their birthdays. Some days I feel like I’m in Monty Python’s Flying Circus, bemoaning the arrogance of youth whilst proclaiming my own tired superiority for having survived the rigors of living in a shoe and eating gravel for breakfast before walking twenty miles to school — barefoot, uphill, through a blizzard.

I forget, of course, that I once was Superman, and flew high and far and fast before I came back down to earth. I forget that I chose to stay on earth, and chose to let gravity and time have their way with me. I forget that I let joy slip though my fingers like grains of sand spilling from a broken hourglass.

When we moved south last month to the land of the hunt, I came across a book of poetry I had purloined from my father’s shelves in my own arrogant youth, and it fell open to a poem I loved when I was an egotist of twenty and was prematurely jaded by life’s vicissitudes. With the permission of the generous copyright holder and his heirs, I give you Superman’s lament:

Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
Wandering companionless
Among the stars that have a different birth,
And ever changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?

Think Superman after the Daily Herald has burned down and Clark Kent is no more. Superman after he realizes that he’s stuck playing Dorian Gray forever. Superman when he understands that it all goes on and on and he can’t quit because — being invincible — no one can plunge a knife into his steely chest and stop the steady metronome of his heart.

All things considered, Superman is a tough role to play. Tiring, really, and a bit of a downer. Being human is complicated enough without having to be super as well.


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