By Kathryn Lopez, NEA Columnist
"Dad loves #scifi because it's such a great way to explore the things that matter most."
"Themes of #hope, #courage, good conquering evil -- why dad loves #comics."
These are some of the tweets involving some well-known Hollywood names and faces on Twitter lately. In a forum not always known for bringing people together, a young woman has succeeded in a great adventure of celebrating life, even as her beloved father's comes to an end.
Superheroes were the trending theme, and the most powerful of them all is a man named Stratford Caldecott. Since his Marvel comic-collecting boyhood, he's had a lifelong fascination with action heroes. His family was disappointed they never got to take him to see the latest Captain America movie, "Winter Soldier," not yet released in England.
"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. Leonie shares: "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, too?'"
Sophie Caldecott aimed high. Knowing what a superhero fan her dad is and how it would both cheer him up and also bring people together -- and hoping to encourage men to go see a doctor (had her father found out about his cancer sooner, he might be with us longer). "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!'"
And with a daughter's love for her father and a little creativity, the hashtag #CapForStrat was born. Actors who have recently played superheroes and villains caught wind of it and got in on the action, starting with the Hulk himself, Mark Ruffalo. Captain America (actor Chris Evans), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and many more have joined in, including fans.
"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, starting with Mark Ruffalo," she reflects, "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 back up -- let's give him the send off he deserves."
Sophie has been corralling the super 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 shared:
"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 will always have their share of team rivalries and shouting matches. But if we can remember there are superheroes showing others how to live and die and serve who often don't make the evening news or silver screen, we might find ourselves challenged to be captains of compassion -- even if it means simply supporting those who make sure the dying man feels like a king with a tweet or a check and a vote for religious liberty and the good it is for society -- before our time has passed.
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 Lopez is the editor-at-large of National Review Online www.nationalreview.com. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.