I did not grow up with Superman comics. My first encounter with Superman was as an adult. I saw him in a movie. Yes, he could do strange things, lift a huge bus or fly like a bullet. That did not appeal to me: I was content to simply ride a bus or take a plane to go somewhere. Sacrilegious as it may sound, my affinity was with his other self, Clark Kent, the quiet, diffident newsman who pined for Lois Lane but couldn’t dare to take her in his arms. The Lois Lanes in my life didn’t even know I pined for them.
In this catastrophe has finally arisen the hope of a remedy, the miracle of a protective shield. A vaccine that can save you from the menacing virus. You will not have the disease; if you have it, you will be spared its worst depredation. All you must do is extend your arm, receive a mild jab or two and you are saved.
My friend Tanya, who volunteers at a center where the drug is administered and had herself received two doses of the vaccine, said, “You feel like a Superman. One moment you are weak and vulnerable, the next instant you are indestructible. You can go anywhere, meet anyone, do anything.”
On a frosty winter morning, I drove twenty miles to a large hospital complex and marched into a large building ironically titled the Sports Health Center. In a vast hall, a few hundred people were greeted by red-shirted volunteers and quickly shepherded to small, numbered tables. I went to a corner table, where presided a woman in her forties, in a turquoise blouse and a gray skirt. A pale blue mask covered the lower half of her face, but her eyes twinkled as she gestured me to sit close to her in a half-turned chair.
She said her name was Ann and asked me to introduce myself. I gave her my name and confirmed the particulars I had sent in earlier. Then I took off my jacket and rolled up my sleeve. The cleaning, injection and taping took hardly five minutes. Then Ann requested me to sit and rest for ten minutes, to make sure that I did not have a strong reaction. I didn’t, and in five minutes I was again in my car, on my way home.
I was now a Superman. I could now choke a little eating a bagel and cough, and people would not scatter for fear of catching a virus. I could now pass by the woods near my home and sneeze a little, and others around me would not run for life, fearing I was a potent Covid threat. I was now special, pretty close to royalty.
Royalty, as Meghan Markle has now abundantly shown, has its downside. I realize with shame that I have become special because I live in the US, one of the richer forty countries, mostly in Europe, that have stockpiled the vaccine and will probably overcome it by the year-end. Another 150 less affluent countries will take another year, if ever. As the New York Times says, a person of 70 can’t have the vaccine in Shanghai, nor one of 80 in Kenya or one of 90 in South Korea. A person of whatever age can’t have it in Haiti or Papua New Guinea – or in 67 countries of Africa.
Even where it is available, wildly diverse groups are entitled to the vaccine: a legislator in Lebanon, but not a pregnant woman in Germany; a prisoner in Florida and a smoker in Illinois, but not a smoker in Georgia or a prisoner in Texas, nor a diabetic in Connecticut or an immigrant in Arizona. In India, the vaccine is shamelessly given to the well-off who can register on a smartphone and can pay a decent fee.
This is monstrously parochial and insane, for we well know that the virus does not honor state or country borders. Our distribution of a royal privilege adheres more to our idea of who deserves to be selectively indulged and saved, though we also know that we have no safety unless we are all safe.
I feel a special kinship with Superman, for he was born the same year as me. Legend has it that he was born on another planet, Krypton, but he was really born in the US town of Smallville when writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster imagined him for DC Comics. He was possessed of incredible strength and a sense of mission – to rid the world of villains.
While I never wanted to be Superman, perhaps now, in a world ravaged by a mysterious scourge, I will have the strength of invulnerability. As for the villains, of whom there seem to be many (some at the very helm of my motherland) -- like Lex Luthor, either a greedy businessman or an unscrupulous technologist, or even a power-seeking, Machiavellian politico – perhaps I should raise my voice and see what I can do.