Admittedly, I have never met Jerry Siegel, co-creator of Superman, the fictional comic book superhero. Had I been granted the opportunity, I first would have thanked him for the borrowed Superman metaphor I often employ in therapy with my clients. Then I would have asked him if Krypton, Superman's native planet, held any resemblance to Mr. Siegel's own homeland of Cleveland, Ohio.
As it was written, Superman was jettisoned to earth in a rocket ship only moments before Krypton exploded into smithereens. Krypton's demise was due to its unstable radioactive core, perhaps a deliberate tribute to Cleveland's Cuyahoga River, infamous for its frequent fires on the water caused by pollution slicks.
I mean no disparaging sentiment for the Clevelanders reading this, but I can't but help wonder: What did Mr. Siegel have in mind when he decided that the one and only element that can strip Superman of his superhuman powers - and perhaps even kill him - is the element that comes from his home planet? The reference is too obvious for this therapist to ignore. Better yet, it's too beautiful a talking point to overlook.
I want to know how Mr. Siegel felt about his family of origin. Was the family contentious and dysfunctional - or warm, connected, and validating? Was Krypton like the home of Mr. Siegel's own family of origin? I'll never know, because Jerry Siegel died in 1996, and his co-creator, Joe Shuster, died in 1992.
Were it not for holiday family gatherings - and oftentimes destructive family feuds - I wouldn't need to employ my cautionary but appropriate reference to Superman. Every year, as Thanksgiving approaches, not a week goes by that I don't pull Superman out of hiding and speak of his comic-bound strength and invulnerability. I ask, "What is the one thing that renders Superman powerless?"
I'm often met with a bewildered look. Those clients old enough to remember 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, but it is ironic that Superman could be stopped by only one thing: an element from his homeland. Even the most therapy-savvy among us, those who have risen out of dysfunction and family disorientation, are rendered powerless while returning home for the holidays. It can seem as though time has stood still, waiting for our return to fill the family roles-of-old.
As much as we'd like to think we've arrived at therapeutic transcendence, returning to our families of origin during the holidays often challenges our ability to maintain self-care and personal boundaries. It takes mindful awareness to remain immune from family havoc, and such success is not always achievable.
By way of my comic book metaphor, I remind my clients that even the strongest among us is susceptible. Even though a luscious glance from Lois Lane couldn't bring Clark Kent to his knees, Superman was susceptible to the destabilizing effects of Kryptonite. So we seek progress, not perfection. And as the holidays approach and we find ourselves facing a trip to Krypton or Cleveland we have choices: Stay home, or go visit the family. Just take along your favorite superhero for protection.