When I was a younger, no larger than a crate full of Chinese spiders, I lived my life by a sort of miniature samurai code. This code involved asking myself a simple question: "What would Super Joe do in a situation like this?" That's when I would find the moral and mental certainty to complete any task looming before me. "Yes," I would say to myself, "Super Joe wants me to give it my all, no matter what kind of pitfalls or barrels block the path to success." Things were a lot easier back then. My faith was solid.
Back then I had only one thing to fear: failing Super Joe. What would the repercussions be if Super Joe died because of my shortcomings, or broke under interrogation and surrendered his wisdom to the enemy because I didn't get to him in time? Surely he was valuable to the cause, since they would not mount a rescue mission if he were just some expendable grunt. No, Super Joe had to be, well, super. He had to be a hero of true grit, a living monument to the awesome potential that exists within all of us to overcome adversity. There was no reason to doubt Super Joe, just as there was no reason to doubt the decision to send me to rescue him.
As I grew older and worked my way through the dangerous obstacles life threw at me, I began to question the superiority of Super Joe. It was childish frustration at first, mind you, but the questions remained regardless of their infantile origin. In fact, these questions grew up themselves, becoming more sharp and cunning as the years passed. Why was I risking my life for Super Joe, a man I knew nothing about? Aside from the fact he was captured, what more could I say about him? I couldn't say he was a kind man, that he was a wise man, for I did not know him as anything more than a goal. Who was he? Was he even really real? Was he worth saving? And if so, why? Would he make the sacrifices and struggles worth it in the end, or would he simply prove to be an anticlimax? And together, like a patchwork, these questions formed a larger question that gnawed at my soul with ravenous red teeth. Quite simply, I wanted to know why I was the one going after Super Joe. Splinters of doubt dug into my confidence's skin, and faith was no longer strong enough to pull them out.
Of course the problem was that Super Joe represented a paradox, at least within conventional thought. How could a man so super fail his mission and get captured? And if he existed to me as the monument to overcoming adversity, why couldn't he overcome his? Not to sound cold, but in the greater scheme of things, especially war, lives are lost and sometimes people simply cannot be saved. For me, it was simply impossible to quantify his value, since his one known heroic act was to get captured by the enemy. Surely this invalidated him as a hero, I reasoned, and thusly invalidated any mission to save him. In a weird way I also wondered if this made me superior to him. If it were my duty to do what he failed to do, then wouldn't that make me more super than him?
Questions like these are not easy to answer. I could swing from a metal balcony floating over a pit of fire but the seemingly simple task of defining the nature of one man proved too difficult. It was a pitfall greater than the reach of any grappling hook, let alone mine. Perhaps this was why believing in Super Joe was so important. Perhaps he transcended certainty, ascending to a plateau that could only be appreciated by surmounting the myriad jigsaw puzzles of an arduous life and finally looking down at them as a whole from on high. Maybe Super Joe was super because he was beyond the struggles of man. He was captured only in our minds and by our standards, yet free in his personal world. In that sense, I was the prisoner to the routine of a cruel world. In finding him, I would actually be freeing myself. And who says it would end there? Freeing a man of powerful transcending ideas from the shackles of this oppressive world could open up his teachings to untold numbers. Super Joe could be the key to that final revolution that takes us to where we all need to be.
In the movie "Apocalypse Now," we see that Willard clearly understands the nature of Kurtz's madness. Had he not endured the trials of the journey to find Kurtz, he would not have been able to fully grasp the entirety of Kurtz's torment or its very real justifications. Not to suggest that Super Joe is or was insane, but perhaps it is the torment of the journey to find him that makes rescuing him a meaningful experience. If he were not so elusive, would there be anything to gain? Perhaps in the end we will both look down at the world from on high and he will tell me, "This is why you did what you did. Your grappling hook can reach far, but even it must take small steps to climb the mountain." But even then the idea of Super Joe as savior is another fantasy. There is no way to prove he is anything more than a captured soldier in a greater war. As a fellow soldier, it was merely my job to save him. A job like any other, and nothing more. A job I have since retired from.
Truth be told, I rarely think about Super Joe anymore. Like any good riddle, he occasionally enters my mind and beckons me to untangle the twisting knots of perplexity. In these instances I am propelled to revive the struggle, to seek him out and find the answers once and for all. But it's never anything more than a spark these days, failing to ever ignite into the glorious crusade it once was. Maybe I was once the perfect candidate to find and rescue Super Joe. I can see the logic, most definitely. Who better suited to reach for the unreachable than a man with a grappling hook? But Super Joe isn't what I'm looking for anymore. The way I see it, there are six billion Super Joes out there. Let's start looking for them instead. They're all around us and easier to find.
TOTAL WRECK - crazy-eyed hound is covered in cobwebs, has a vespiary on back, graffiti on side and savage thirst for boat fuel. Frankly, I'm in over my head. He's in room 115 at Motel 6, yours free. 555-2851
Yes, it's the perfect form for surviving a car crash. But it's also the perfect form for so much more, like surviving the trauma of reading any news headline in 2016.
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