The Birth of the Righteous League

Elaine Maly

It’s a beautiful summer day in Milwaukee as I ride my bike to Saint Ann’s Intergenerational Care Center.  Yolanda, the art therapist, has gathered a group of five clients for me to work with for this new project. She tells me that three of them rarely interact with others.  We assemble at a round table full of cylinders holding colored pencils and markers. The table is covered with plastic and there’s a clean sheet of paper at each place. We introduce ourselves. Christine whose bright pink hair speaks volumes about her personality. She’s in a motorized wheelchair and her speech is difficult to understand. John is in a wheelchair and is blind. Mark uses a cane and lets me know that he’d been shot. Diane is vision impaired and withdrawn. Jake, the youngest of the group, avoids eye contact and keeps up a steady pace of sketching on his pad.

(photo art by Tyler Copes)

I’m nervous. I don’t know where this will go. They might like the beautiful question I’m about to propose. Then again they might think it’s just silly. But when I finally blurt it out–”If you could have a super power, what would it be?”, it is as though the light in the room brightened. Smiles spread across everyone’s face.

Jake is the first to respond. “I’d be super smart and a billionaire. Super Jake would help others by giving them money if they are broke. He has premonitions, like knowing if a tornado is coming so that he could tell people to seek shelter. And he fights crime. Jake also shares that he thinks that it’s important that there’s a team of superheroes because lots of different powers will be needed.

And just like that, we’re off — into the world of community building and imagination.

Christine’s super power is to bring happiness to people at nursing homes and groups homes through fun activities. She will be called Party Animal.

Mark’s super power is to have super energy so that he can complete his tasks and help others with their work. He will be called Energy Man.

John’s super power is prayer. Through the power of prayer, he helps people make better decisions. He is Super Jesus.

Diane’s superpower is reading. She reads to people and that calms them right down. She’s Super Reader.

As all of this is going on, Yolanda the art therapist encourages them to draw their superhero. Jake has sketched a figure that looks like it is right out of Marvel Comics with the caption, Super Jake. He uses a dollar sign for the “S” in Super.

Energy Man’s logo is a lightning bolt.

Super Jesus describes his alter ego as 10 feet tall with a red robe to stand out and I do my best to draw to his specifications.

Party Animal’s drawing looks like a giant pink puffball.

Super Reader is a book with legs.

We’re running out of time and the group is getting tired. But Jake says that we have a lot of work to do. We have to figure out who our enemies are and the origins of our super powers. We agree to meet again soon.

My heart is bursting with joy. And as I ride my bike home, I reflect on how easily they were able to identify their super powers. No one chose a regular everyday power like flying or invisibility. I don’t know their medical histories, but it seems that they chose a super power that either countered their situation (like Energy Man and Super Jake) or that amplified things that already give them great joy (like Party Animal, Super Reader, and Super Jesus). And it struck me how quickly they saw themselves as not lone heroes but a team — a team they’ve decided to call The Righteous League.