Compassion Is How You Free Your Past Selves
After 33 years in hiding, Superman is forced to reveal himself to the world.
The commander of an ominous, alien ship demands the people of earth “hand over” their visitor…or else. But Clark Kent was raised a reasonable man, and so, to spare humanity the trouble, he volunteers.
Of course, nothing good happens inside the hull of that ship. Hailing from Kal-El’s home planet, the invaders plan to revive their race on earth, using his DNA. For good measure, they kidnap his love in the process and, ultimately, Clark has no choice but to try and escape.
Luckily, his father is there to help. A projection, at least. A holographic memory. As he shows his son a way out of the spacecraft, Clark inquires about the potential of his blood to re-erect Krypton.
“We wanted you to learn what it meant to be human first. So that one day, when the time was right, you could be the bridge between two peoples.”
And then, just as Clark spots the love of his life, hurling towards earth in a broken escape pod, Superman’s dad speaks his last words to his son:
“You can save her, Kal. You can save all of them.”
2D Characters in a 3D World
When I meditate, all bets are off. There’s no way to predict what my subconscious will send back to the surface. The only thing I know is that, sooner or later, every memory I have will make an appearance.
What they all have in common is a prior version of me, a version that’s long gone but whose hologram — like Superman’s dad — still lingers. Usually, each projection is one-dimensional. Focused on one trait, one idea, one action that defined me at the time — and thus the memory.
There’s the me who felt like a true Pokémon trainer, walking around with his GameBoy all day. The me that felt smarter than the other kids. The me who dreamed about changing the world but never did anything. These memories might be true, but they’re all just one part of me at one point in time. Flat. 2D characters in a three-dimensional past.
This week, however, another Nik showed up. A Nik from the future. I’m not sure he was Nik at all. He felt so…weightless. Dimensionless. There was no single fixture pinning him to the back of my mind. He didn’t need to be there. He just was. And even though he didn’t say anything, he still sent a message.
It was the same message his father’s hologram sent Kal:
“You can save all of them.”
No Hope Left
The men are locked high in the oil rig’s central tower. They’re on their last tank of oxygen, and the fire is closing in. There’s no hope left for them.
Two hands scrunch the door like it’s paper, and a shirtless, burning man steps in. Less than a minute later, the men board the chopper to safety. Superman has saved the day.
That’s what my past selves feel like. At least some of them. A group of children, victims, prisoners. Huddled together, sitting in a damp cell, waiting for someone to come and rescue them.
There’s the me that watched too much porn for all the wrong reasons. The me that cried over a girl that didn’t deserve him. The me that hurt his family over his own shortcomings. They’re all so pitiful, sitting there. Now, they do have reason to cry. They regret things. It’s too late for them.
But then, a sound breaks the silence. Heavy iron moving. A door opens and on the cold, hard floor falls a little ray of sunshine.
Who Is This Guy?
I don’t know where the other Nik came from. He wasn’t a person. More of a wave, just…flowing. A glowing wave of compassion.
Light floods the prison. It hurts, but it’s warm. “He sees us,” they think. And, for the fraction of a second, he does. Every single one.
The me who botched the relationship with my idol. “It’s okay.”
The me who fell off his bike and never wanted to ride again. “It’s okay.”
The me who first felt real empathy, listening to a lost artist’s songs. “It’s okay.”
“You’re all here because you can’t change. Your time is over. But you’re still worth loving.”
Damn. Who is this guy? And where has he been all these years?
All Bent Out of Shape
The school bully pulls Clark out of the car and throws him against the fence. Plato’s Republic still in hand, he’s too scared to react to provocations. But with adult bystanders watching, the gang decides to leave. Only one kid remains.
A tap on his knee makes Clark jump. A chubby, redhead boy with glasses extends a hand. Clark gets up. The fence post he held on to is all bent out of shape. Then, his human dad steps in, asking if the others hurt him.
“You know they can’t.”
“That’s not what I meant. I meant are you all right?”
“I wanted to hit that kid. I wanted to hit him so bad.”
“I know you did. I mean part of me even wanted you to, but then what? Make you feel any better?”
And then, as he looks at his father with tears in his eyes, Clark hears the human version of what his real dad will tell him 20 years later:
“You just have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be, Clark. Because whoever that man is, good character or bad, he’s…
He’s gonna change the world.”
How To Save Your Past Selves
Who are we in that last scene? The bully? The victim? The friend? I think we’re all of them. Sometimes at the same time.
We shove our past selves into a corner and we yell at them, hoping we’ll get a response. Some kind of explanation of why we let ourselves down. Often, there isn’t one, or we don’t like the one we hear. Meanwhile, the victims are cowering against the wall. Further bottling up their pain and regret — bending the post out of shape. But then what? Make us feel any better? No. But we can also choose to extend a hand. To be our own, chubby, nerdy little friend.
Compassion is a lot of things. Sympathy. Empathy. Patience. But it always starts with acceptance. A non-judgmental, holistic view of who you are. That’s how you open the gate and free those prisoners. That’s how you save your past selves.
I don’t know how you’ll find your compassion, but whenever it happens, you’ll realize it was always there to begin with. Slumbering deep inside yourself. Sometimes, you need to meditate to wake it. Sometimes, you just need a friend. Or something else entirely.
What I know for sure is that the memories you hold hostage are memories of a person worth loving. They were never one-dimensional. That’s just a result of storage compression. You’ve always lived in a three-dimensional space.
It’s true that we sometimes make one-sided decisions. We’re not perfect. But in being our own bully or best friend, we decide who we grow up to be. Good character or bad. One day, one decision, one memory at a time.
That character may not change the world, but they will definitely change our world. Yes. We’re not Superman. We can’t save everybody. But we don’t have to. There are a lot of us. If we each free our past selves, that is enough. I know it doesn’t always feel like it, but I promise:
You can save all of them.