I was fascinated by a television program called “The Tomorrow People” when I was a kid. Every afternoon at 4:30 I’d tune in our trusty Sylvania Superset to Nickelodeon-yes, there was Nickelodeon in 1980-and get completely engrossed in this low budget science fiction show. What the program lacked in production values it more than made up for in the imagination department. Get this premise: some painfully average school kids wake up one day with superpowers. They can appear and disappear. They can read minds. They can lift objects just by thinking about them. So they do what any other kids in their situation would do: defend planet earth against alien invaders and malfunctioning robots!
The program premiered the same week I started junior high. Looking back, I think my connection to the program and the timing of the premier are definitely related. Each afternoon The Tomorrow People left their normal lives behind and explored strange new worlds. I was leaving behind the normalcy of elementary school and also my friends because I had enrolled at Warren County Christian School. 1980 was a time in my life when I felt particularly vulnerable and it was comforting to watch teenage heroes overcome their challenges every afternoon. Even though adults and classmates treated them with indifference, they were still special. After all, they had superpowers.
I daydreamed a lot about superpowers that school year. Invisibility would have come in handy for an emergency exit, especially when I said or did something awkward around my peers, which was pretty much all the time. It would have been great to go faster than a speeding bullet on those school mornings when I overslept my alarm. Maybe if I were stronger than a locomotive I might have impressed my crush. Unlike the heroes I idolized on television though I never woke up with anything exciting like superpowers, just puberty.
I daydreamed about superpowers because I was a geek who spent too many hours glued to the comic rack at B & B Smoke Shop. Down the street was a guy playing air guitar in his room pretending to be a member of Kiss. Around the corner was a girl browsing Seventeen magazine fashion magazine imagining turning heads like Brooke Shields. Call it what you will but there were an awful lot of us wishing for “powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.” We all craved a shortcut, a secret, that extra push to help us achieve things beyond our reach-beauty, romance, popularity, wealth, and fame.
The tragic part was that we all had superpowers but didn’t realize it until much later. The superpower was being ourselves. We all had unique characteristics and skills to offer the world. Personal feelings of inadequacy (the teenage version of kryptonite) and the herd mentality kept us wearing our Clark Kent glasses far too long. No one gave us the memo that we didn’t need the approval of everyone to feel good about ourselves. We didn’t realize that having it all together was overrated. Trying, failing, and yet trying again was a much more heroic narrative.
I turn 46 in a few days, so the trip from 1980 has been a long one. At times I scarcely believed that I had the courage, brains or heart to navigate the road in front of me, but just like the characters in The Wizard of Oz I discovered that I already possessed everything I needed to finish the journey. Strangely, I now realize that it was the monumental obstacles and the most diabolical supervillains that drew out the most of courage, brains, and heart that may have otherwise stayed dormant.
My message to you, the reader, is simply this: there are seven billion people on planet earth and only one of you. Like all responsible heroes you need to use the gift of being yourself for the betterment of the world. Appreciate your uniqueness, take some courageous risks, and be bold in your love for others.
Ian Eastman, M.A. promotes the wellbeing of our community at Family Services of Warren County. The organization is offering several new short-term groups such as stress management, women’s coping skills, and anger management. Call 723-1330 for more information.