The newest release of the Marvel Studios movie, The Amazing Spider-Man, tells the back-story of Peter Parker (Spider-Man). The movie starts out when Peter is a young boy. For an unexplained reason, someone is out to get Peter’s parents. In order to ensure his safety, Peter’s parents drop him off to stay with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben.
After dropping him off, Peter’s parents disappear into the night and are never heard from again. He is subsequently raised by his aunt and uncle. As a teenager, Peter is bitten by a genetically modified spider, which causes his mind and body to take on superhuman qualities.
If you’re familiar with comic book characters, you may have noticed that a large percentage of the main characters share something in common with the characters who are portrayed in classic literature and children’s fairy tales. Do you know what that commonality is?
I’ll give you a hint.
The following characters have one very important thing in common: Spider-Man, Batman, and Superman (comic book characters); Cinderella, Snow White, and Peter Pan (children’s fairy tales); Oliver Twist, Tom Sawyer, Anne of Green Gables, and Frodo Baggins (classic literature). For the fun of it, let’s also throw Harry Potter into the mix of characters.
Do you know what these characters have in common?
The answer is: They’re all orphans. When they were young, one or both of their parents died, abandoned them, disappeared on them, or were killed.
Why would an author create a main character who is an orphan? One of the most compelling reasons is to generate empathy for the character.* Empathy is the ability to develop a deep understanding of what a person is going through by putting yourself in the place of the person.
Every human on earth has the ability to empathize with an orphan. Why? Because each and every one of us has, at one time or another, felt like an orphan – alone, left behind, abandoned, forgotten, or misunderstood. We all have the ability to relate to and understand the feelings and frustrations of an orphan.
I thought about orphan characters last month when I read an article that reported that in July of this year, suicides among U.S. Army soldiers hit a new all-time single-month record. During July, 38 active-duty and reserve Army soldiers killed themselves. The number of suicides in June totaled 24. The article also reported that last year a total of 283 active-duty and reserve Army soldiers committed suicide. It appears as though last year’s number will be surpassed this year.
In the article I read, Tom Tarantino, the legislative director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, was quoted as saying, “I was pretty shocked when I saw the number.” The current vice chief of the Army, General Lloyd Austin, was also quoted: “Suicide is the toughest enemy I have faced in my 37 years in the Army.” He then commented that the Army is attempting to address the mental health issues of U.S. troops and is focused on reducing the stigma and shame that is attached to asking for help.
How was it that last year 283 U.S. soldiers came to the conclusion that they had no other choice but to end their lives? How is it that none of those soldiers felt they had at least one person they could turn to for help? How did their parents and loved ones feel when they got the phone call?
A mother gave birth to each of those soldiers, changed their diapers when they were infants, tucked them in at night, and nurtured and loved them. Now they’re dead and gone, not because they were killed by the enemy, but because they killed themselves.
I hate reading about anyone who has committed suicide. It’s such a waste of life. Suicide shatters the lives of everyone who knew and cared for the person who took his or her own life.
I read once that one of the promises of the rosary is that a person who prays a rosary every day will gain salvation for each and every immediate member of his or her family. Immediate family members include parents, brothers and sisters, spouse, and children. The Catholic Church has never formally declared that this promise is true and I have no way of proving that it is true, but I’m willing to take my chances and accept it as being true.
As Catholics, we know that our Lord does what His mother asks of Him, as demonstrated at the wedding in Cana when, at her request, He turned water into wine. Does she have the power to secure from her Son the grace that is necessary to gain salvation for every member of my family? I don’t know of any saint or devout Catholic who would answer that question with a “no.”
Regardless of whether the promise is true or not, I faithfully pray the rosary every day with the hope that it is true. The Catholic Church teaches that Mary is not only the Mother of God but is also the spiritual mother of each and every one of us. She loves each of us with a perfect love. When we reach out to her every day by praying the rosary, she extends her shield of protection over our families.
This is a great consolation for those of us who have adult children who live far away from us – children who may, at times, feel as though they are alone. Georgette and I have three adult children who live in other areas of the country. We don’t have any reason to believe that they feel alone, abandoned, forgotten, or misunderstood, but we want to make sure that if they ever do feel that way, the Mother of God will be at their side to console and care for them.
That’s one of the reasons we pray our rosaries every day. It’s a small price to pay for the heavenly protection we need for ourselves and our family members.
*Another compelling reason an author creates a main character who is an orphan is because it allows the author to cast the character as someone who is not bound by family obligations or parental control – a character who is free to take risks and lead an adventurous life.