‘Dad loves #scifi because it’s such a great way to explore the things that matter most.”
Superheroes were the trending theme, and the reason for the tweets is a man named Stratford Caldecott. An accomplished writer himself, he has had a lifelong fascination with action heroes, ever since his Marvel-comic-collecting boyhood. His family was disappointed that they would not be able to take him to see the latest Captain America movie, The Winter Soldier, which has not yet been released in England; doctors say he’s not likely to live long enough for its August release there. And even if he did, “He is in so much pain in his lower back that sitting for any length of time is now impossible,” his wife, Leonie, tells me. “So my lovely journalist daughter said, ‘Why don’t I ask Marvel if we could borrow an advance copy of the movie — and, while I’m at it, why don’t I ask if some of the actors could send a selfie to cheer him up?’”
The said daughter, Sophie, aimed high. Knowing what a superhero fan her dad is, she believed her campaign would cheer him up and also bring people together — and she hoped, too, that it would encourage men to go see a doctor. “We’re also going to tweet the Avengers actors and see if they will take a picture of themselves holding a sign saying ‘Captain America/Thor/Iron Man [insert name of character here] for Strat!’”
“We had no idea it would gather speed in this way,” Leonie says. “Strat has been overwhelmed by it all. He has been smiling for the first time in weeks. But he wants to make sure that it’s more about getting men to be aware of the early symptoms of prostate cancer, rather than about him. He is in the situation he is in now because he was diagnosed too late.
“The kindness of those who responded,” she reflects, “starting with Mark Ruffalo, has in a strange way made our family feel our situation has a broader meaning and purpose, which is strangely comforting. It is true that love overcomes all: Sophie’s love for her dad has called out a much wider love and concern even from total strangers, which in turn is giving us all courage.”
“Dad is about to face the biggest challenge of his life,” Sophie wrote in launching the campaign. “Death is the greatest, most frightening adventure of them all. He is one of the good guys, worthy of superhero status himself. As Agent Coulson would say, it’s time to call for backup — let’s give him the sendoff he deserves.”
As the fictional action heroes celebrated one real-life one — a highly motivated man who accepted his late and grave diagnosis with humility and courage — the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty celebrated the gift of freedom, awarding Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, also a Brit, for his work to defend religious freedom. Sacks urged Americans to see that our tradition of rooting freedom in religious faith was a rich one, a beacon for the world, for human flourishing. And, speaking to Mormons and Protestants and Jews and Muslims and Catholics and Hindus and agnostics — you get the picture — he pointed to our common humanity that precedes our differences, including religious ones.
Sophie has been corralling the superhero support for her dad as she cares for her own first child, pointing to the cycle of life and love we can lose sight of as we live from day to day, paycheck to paycheck, deadline to deadline.
Writing earlier about her father’s illness, she said:
After the initial fear and shock, life returned more or less to normal. Today, sometimes I forget that he has cancer, and the only sign that something is attacking the heart of our family is the increased closeness and honesty between us all. The overt affection and support for one another that has always been there is now a constant priority. There is no need for wishing we had done things differently. We are soaking each other up, drinking in smiles and jokes and mundane moments as we always have, pushing against the same darkness that threatens us all.
Politics and bars on Friday nights — and Thanksgiving gatherings — will always have their share of team rivalries and shouting matches. But if we can remember that there are heroes who may never make the evening news or the silver screen, but who are showing others how to live and die and serve, we might find ourselves challenged to be captains of compassion ourselves before our time has passed — whether that means simply supporting those who make sure a dying man feels like a king (or a superhero), or whether it means sending a check to the Little Sisters of the Poor to help them care for the elderly poor and also go to court to stand up for religious liberty.
Or, as Sophie put it in a tweet: “Best thing about #CapforStrat? Sharing love & solidarity with total strangers. We’re all one family after all, & the stories we tell matter.”
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a founder of Catholic Voices USA. This column is based on one available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.