“Who are you without that suit?!” It was a fabulous question Captain America asked of Iron Man.
Sorry, my family recently embarked on a full 23 Marvel movie marathon as a way to pass time through the quarantine, so now everything reminds me of the Avengers. It’s fascinating to me how much these fantastic stories of superheroes pertain to our current historical moment.
It seems, however, most people I ask, who’s your favorite Marvel hero? Will name Tony Stark. Perhaps it’s his bad-boy persona or the quintessential hero’s journey he finds himself on. Or maybe it’s just because he’s the most flawed and it’s easy to see ourselves in him. Well, that and who doesn’t want to be a billionaire philanthropist genius?
But then there’s Captain America. I think I could write a book on the analysis of this near Christ-like figure. Despite being the quintessential ‘good guy’ (or perhaps because of that), Captain America always seems to be one of the more divisive characters of the series. He is extremely strong-willed which leads him into a lot of arguments with Tony Stark and others. He’s got a handful of catch-phrases, including my favorite:
“I can do this all day.”
I think it encapsulates what makes Captain Rogers, Captain Rogers. He’s incorruptible. You can beat him up all day. It doesn’t change him. He becomes no more cynical, no less pure.
Once I was discussing “Turning the other cheek” with a group of friends, and one of them had an incredible insight that stuck with me some 30 years later: “The Bible verse doesn’t say ‘you can’t protect yourself,'” she explained. “It doesn’t say you should allow people to abuse you or harm you. When we say turn the other cheek, what we’re saying is don’t become one of them. Just because they hate on you doesn’t mean you have to hate them. Turning the other cheek is less a physical act and more an emotional one.” I love that perspective — and I think that’s why I love Captain America so much (and also why he often gets on Tony Stark’s nerves). He doesn’t change. No amount of violence will change who he is, cause him to question his motives, or push him beyond “enough.”
For Captain America, turning the other cheek meant, in the face of being frozen in ice for decades and waking up in the future, he didn’t change. When S.H.I.E.L.D. was actually being run by Hydra, he kept his truth; when Bucky became the Winter Soldier, Bucky was still his friend; when half the world disappeared, he didn’t stop fighting. He was the same man in the last movie as he was in The First Avenger; and, it turns out, the only human worthy enough, pure enough of intention and deed, to wield Thor’s Hammer.
I think Steve could have wielded the hammer even in his skinny, sickly youth. He was always worthy. He was always pure of heart, committed, a brilliant embodiment of what it means to serve. That’s how he became the Captain in the first place.
So what’s my point?
2020 is kicking our ass. Just when we think it can’t get worse, my friend’s son gets paralyzed, another’s sister commits suicide, fires engulf the west — and the list goes on. I think we can all be Steve Rogers. I think we all are Steve Rogers, actually — but we are being asked to stand our ground. To hold our belief in what is good. To resist getting warped by despair as we get increasingly beat down and scared. “We can do this all day.” We tend to think we need to be a billionaire, genius, philanthropist. But what are we without the suit of iron, without the hammer of Thor? We’re Steve Rogers, believing in the good of friends even when they themselves lost their way.
We have to accept that who we are is enough.
Our ability is not defined by what we have, but who we are. It’s the ability to be Steve Rogers, not when he’s Captain America, but when he’s a skinny kid getting beaten half to death in a back alley by the year 2020. Most of us don’t believe we can do this all day because we’ve convinced ourselves we aren’t in control. But we are — at least of some things. We are in control of ourselves.
Steve Rogers is inside of you. Just like Sam Wilson (Falcon), it’s our turn to pick up the shield and become “Captain America” to confront fear, despair, overwhelm, and doubt. Through the chaos of 2020, through the smoke from the wildfires on the West Coast, through the pandemic and the protests and the politics — remember you’ve got your own Vibranium Shield. It’s called community, will-power, and internal strength. Steve Rogers is inside of all of us.
We can do this all day.