The Other as superhero

Most superheroes are mutants. Except for Superman, who is an alien, Thor who is a god, and Iron Man who is a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist.

OK, to be more precise, Spiderman, the Incredible Hulk and the Fantastic Four are mutants. And so are the X-Men. And that’s enough to prove my point. Which is that fictional mutants are really great examples of Others, and it’s their mutations that give them the power to become superheroes.

I remember watching X-Men: Days of Future Past last year and being really moved by the young Charles Xavier struggling with the burden of his mutant powers. As he was capable of reading minds – everyone’s minds – he could also feel enormous amounts of pain. All at once. Inevitably it was overwhelming, and he looked for ways to take the pain away.

It was his future self who came back to remind him that, until he accepted the burden of his mutation, he could not be a force for good.

Professor X: Just because someone stumbles and loses their path, doesn’t mean they’re lost forever. Sometimes, we all need a little help.

Charles Xavier: I’m not the man I was.

Professor X: You’re afraid. I remember.

Charles Xavier: All those voices… so much PAIN.

Professor X: It’s not their pain you’re afraid of. It’s yours, Charles. And as frightening as it can be, that pain will make you stronger. If you allow yourself to feel it, embrace it, it will make you more powerful than you ever imagined. It’s the greatest gift we have: to bear their pain without breaking. And it comes from the most human part of us: hope.

I liked this message. At that point in my life, I was in emotional turmoil, and it resonated. You have to sit with the pain, because numbing it doesn’t really help in the long run.

But I think it rings true for everyone who struggles with their sense of self. The pain will make you stronger. It’s not always easy to believe. But it’s usually true. It may even help you fly or move mountains.

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