Admittedly, I have never met nor ever conversed with Jerry Siegel, co-creator of “Superman”, the fictional comic book superhero. But, had I been granted the opportunity, I would have first thanked him for the borrowed “Superman” metaphor that I so often employ in therapy with my clients. Then, I would have asked him if Krypton, Superman’s native fictional planet held any resemblance to Mr. Siegel’s own native home land of Cleveland, Ohio.
In fictional retelling, Superman was jettisoned to earth in a rocket ship only moments before Krypton exploded into smithereens. As it was written Krypton’s demise was due to its unstable radioactive core, perhaps a deliberate tribute to Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River infamous for its too frequent fires on the water owing to pollution slicks.
I mean no disparaging sentiment for the Clevelanders out there who are reading this, but I can’t but help wonder. Just what did Mr. Siegel have in mind when he referenced the more than obvious point that the one and only element that can strip Superman of his superhuman powers and perhaps, even, render him dead, is the element that comes from Superman’s home planet? The reference is too obvious for this therapist to ignore and better yet, too beautiful a talking point to overlook.
What I would really have wanted to know is how Mr. Siegel felt about his family-of-origin; was the family contentious or dysfunctional in its interaction or warm, connected and validating? Was Krypton—let’s say, like being at home in Mr. Siegel’s own family-of-origin?
And what about Kryptonite—the fictional element that hails from Krypton having perilous effects on Superman’s power? I’ll never know because Jerry Siegel died in 1996 and his co-creator, Joe Shuster, died earlier in 1992.
Were it not for the annual holiday and time honored tradition of family gatherings; legendary accounts depicting contentious and oftentimes destructive, holiday family-feuds, I wouldn’t need to employ my cautionary but appropriate reference to Superman.
Every year as Thanksgiving begins to loom large on the horizon not a week goes by that I don’t pull Superman out of hiding and speak to his comic bound strength and invulnerability. Yet, I ask, “What is the one thing that renders Superman powerless and void of strength?”
I’m often met with a bewildered look and for those clients old enough to remember, they mumble, “Kryptonite?” I quickly exclaim “Kryptonite, exactly!”
And, where, I ask does Kryptonite come from?”
“Krypton?” they ask more enthusiastically.
I confess to my clients that I cannot say what Jerry Siegel had in mind when he wrote about Krypton. But it is too ironic that Superman could only be stopped by one thing… an element from his family-of-origin.
It would seem that even the most therapy savvy among us who have risen out of dysfunction and family disorientation are rendered powerless while returning home for the holidays as if time has stood still and waited for our return to fill the family roles-of-old.
As much as we would like to think we’ve arrived at therapeutic transcendence, returning to our family of origin during the holidays often challenges our ability to maintain self care and hold personal boundaries. It takes mindful awareness to remain immune from family havoc and success in so doing is not always achievable.
By way of my comic metaphor, I warn my clients that even the strongest among us is susceptible. It is progress not perfection. “Superman” by virtue of his superhero, superhuman invulnerability (even a luscious glance from Lois Lane didn’t bring Superman aka Clark Kent to his knees) was susceptible to the dangerous and destabilizing effects of Kryptonite.
So, as the holidays approach and we find ourselves staring down a trip to Krypton or Cleveland, we have choices; go and visit the family, stay home or go and bring along your favorite superhero for protection!