For whatever reason, when I was a kid my mom took on a job as a home health care provider and was assigned a young man named Eddie. Stricken with cerebral palsy at birth, Eddie was confined to a wheelchair, had no use of one arm twisted tightly up to his chest and limited use of his other. At first his jerky movements along with cognitive setbacks made me a bit nervous. This was all so new to me and a bit scary as a kid.
It took me a while, but I eventually learned to understand his slurred and jerky speech and we became friends. He would tell me silly jokes and I would show him Batman comics (that Eddie’s dad introduced me to, so I can blame him for a life-long obsession) after mom finished working with him and would sit chatting with his parents Ed and Pat.
What struck me most was his enduring happiness and smile that he had waiting for me every time I would go with my mom to work. One day on the ride home I told my mom “I wish Eddie wasn’t handicapped. He is the nicest guy in the world, he has so much love and goodness in him. He deserves better.” It struck me hard when she replied “If it werent for his condition he would probably be just as selfish and mean as the rest of the world.”
At first I was hurt that she would say that about my friend, but soon realized she was right. His disability had shown him weakness first hand, and somehow that made him strong. He would often tell me how his awesome, manual, one hand operated wheelchair was black like a sports car to show how fast he was. His ability was to overcome greed, selfishness and generally being like the vast majority of people I knew. Eddie was my first real life superhero. Over time mom moved on to another patient, and I became too consumed with girls and other selfish teenage pursuits and lost touch with him, but I still think about Eddie and what he taught me. Last I heard he was living in a group home and aside from a recent bout of pneumonia, is doing well.
Over the years I have met many more superheroes. People who turned what most would call a disadvantage into a source of strength that they shared with others. Today, I learned about my latest. A five year old named Anthony Smith.
Anthony is an adorable little boy who is deaf in one ear and partially deaf in the other, and thanks to the folks at Marvel comics, he learned about his super power. A fan of superheroes himself, Anthony refused to wear his blue hearing aid saying “Superheroes don’t wear hearing aids.” In an attempt to help her son, his mom (Christina D’Allesandro) reached out to Marvel via their general email, telling her son’s story and asking if there were any hearing impaired superheroes, but not expecting a response. It turned out we were all about to discover there really is one, and his name is Anthony.
What happened next was as important as Peter Parker discovering what he could do for others with his powers. A few weeks after emailing Marvel a surprise came in the mail. Two comic book covers (drawn by Manny Mederos and Nelson Ribeiro) depicting a new superhero named The Blue Ear (one showing a little kid Blue Ear, and another, the full grown hero), who, with the help of his blue listening device could hear a pin drop from across the state, and the pleas of those in need of his help.
Anthony saw the art and declared “That’s me!” Anthony aka The Blue Ear (now an honorary Avenger) really is a superhero who now embraces who and what he is. With his new found powers, he has been invited to help other kids.
Teamed up with Phonak (the company that makes Anthony’s device) posters of The Blue Ear will be distributed to doctors across the country to help de-stigmatize kids with hearing aids. It will be unveiled at a special event where Anthony, in his new persona, will appear live teamed up with another technology enhanced hero, Iron Man (who also uses artificial devices to turn his own physical condition to his advantage and be a superhero) to spread the message.
With his new found powers of courage and self esteem, Anthony now has the ability to wear his hearing aid with pride and talk about it. He has even made new friends. Anthony now proudly tells other kids “Hey, I have a little ear and a blue ear. Do you want to play?” He went from refusing his hearing aid to wearing it with pride as a badge of honor. Not only has Anthony found strength within himself, in true super hero fashion, he is sharing that strength with others and teaching other kids like himself that having a hearing aid isn’t a disability, but a power. To me, nothing says hero more than that.
My sincere thanks go out to Anthony, who is making the world better with his inner strength, and his mom for doing what it took to make that happen while showing us all what humanity can truly be when we try. And to Eddie along with his family, for being my first real super heroes.