*Warning: General Marvel and Endgame spoilers throughout*
Dear Tony Stark,
I’ve never really told anyone this, but I’ve always kinda wanted to be a super hero.
I grew up in church being taught that it was my destiny to save people from hell by telling them about Jesus. I was always told I had a purpose. I was going to follows God’s plan and save people from condemnation. It was told to me like it would be an adventure. Christians got spiritual gifts too, which I thought of as my super power. People told me I had potential. I knew I needed to save as many people as I could before the Rapture. That was my Endgame. I was working on the clock.
I also grew up on Marvel. I loved the original Spider-Man movies and the cartoons. I could always be found with an X-Men comic book in my hand. I loved the idea of super heroes. I think I was so enraptured by this idea of saving lives and mattering to the world on a cosmic scale. I wanted people to look up to me and remember my name. I could see myself in a suit, striking a hero pose. I wanted to be a hero for as long as I can remember.
I watched your movie for the first time in middle school I believe. I didn’t like it. I thought it was boring and couldn’t pay attention. Then the second one came along and I thought it was good but not really my thing. But somehow I got roped into the Avengers because of Thor. I remember having a countdown until that movie came out. That movie was when you got me. You were flawed but strong. You put up a front and tried to make people laugh but deep inside you were hurting and you could never say. You never showed your pain or your doubts to anyone because you were a hero. You stayed strong for everyone around you. But I saw right through you. I saw bits of myself in you.
Then Iron Man 3 came out. They showed you on screen with a panic attack from the trauma of New York. You. Iron Man. A super hero with panic attacks. I wish there were words to describe what that meant to me as a teenager who suffered horribly with panic attacks and anxiety. You overcame that every scene in that film and that mattered to me. I watched that movie and felt like I could still be a hero even with my panic attacks. Sometimes that gave me the hope I needed to not feel like a failure when I had to leave church because something triggered me. It made me feel less isolated and weak for it.
I thought I couldn’t love you anymore but then Age of Ultron came out. I know people didn’t like that movie a lot, but Tony Stark, that movie was so important to me. There’s that scene when you’re in the barn talking to Nick Fury and you’re telling him that you have the recurring nightmare that you kill the Avengers. All your friends, and all the world, die because of you. There is this looming fear that its all your fault yet you simultaneously feel so helpless. You made so many bad choices driven by that fear. In that scene, you told Fury that seeing your friends die wasn’t the worst part; the worst part was the fact that you didn’t die. You lived. I wish I didn’t understand that, Tony. But I do. I understand the fear of the burden of being alive. I know what it feels to think you are the one who deserves to die rather than all those around you. And I wish I didn’t feel the overwhelming burden of thinking that you are responsible for the lives of all those around you. But I do. I get it. To see a super hero struggle with that burden was so powerful.
There were nights where I didn’t want to live anymore where I just put Age of Ultron on my TV and cried. I know that’s childish of me. To be a teenager and look up to super heroes the way I did. But see, I never felt like normal life applied to me. I grew up on End Times theology and thinking every day was it and even if it wasn’t, my friends could get hit by a bus tomorrow and go straight to hell. Even less existentially, I just wanted God to be proud of me, so I was always afraid that I was never doing enough. Simply living wasn’t enough. So these huge, larger than life stories felt closer to me than anything else. I was living with an impossible burden. See, my super power has always been my empathy. I feel everyone’s pain as if it were my own. Oftentimes it feels like a gift, but mostly it feels like a curse. I’m in pain a lot. I can’t escape everyone’s pain. I can’t escape the fear that I’m not doing the most that I can to help alleviate other’s suffering. I feel like a failure. But I would always find myself watching Age of Ultron and realizing its okay to be a super hero in pain. It’s okay that I find myself being choked by my own fear and making bad choices because of it. Sometimes we lose battles and make mistakes.
Then there was Infinity War. The snap. Endgame. You felt hopeless and I saw it. I saw myself in that despair. I knew what you felt when you ran away from the fight and didn’t want to be involved anymore. I understand that because lately I’ve felt myself pulling away from everything. It’s funny, my theology and sense of hell and God has evolved so much. I don’t believe what I used to. But sometimes I find myself second guessing myself. I am still plagued by the fear that everything is ending or that I’m wrong or my friends are going to hell. I can’t shake the what-ifs or the super hero complex or the empathy. It’s suffocating and sometimes I don’t want to care. I want to live in the middle of nowhere and marry my boyfriend and have a family and ignore the suffering of the world because I can’t handle it. It’s too much. But much like you, I know I’d never be able to rest.
Today I saw Endgame and I cried. And if you know anything about me, you know that if I’m crying in a movie its because something related to me. This movie was no exception.
Since high school I have been following you as you’ve made mistakes, hurt people, loved, grown, learned, and created. In a way, you’ve been with me as I’ve done the same thing. Today I watched as you overcame your fear and put aside what you wanted in order to do what was right. You really came full circle today. You died a fucking hero. It was the most tragic and heartbreaking thing to see my favorite hero die on screen but I didn’t feel robbed. It felt right. You faced your biggest fear; seeing everyone you love die, but you couldn’t accept it so you did something about it. You saved the world. You can rest now.
There was a part of me that needed that reminder that I can do this. I’m no super hero. I’m not out to save the world. But I can’t shut myself off from the world either. I can’t close myself off when I’m feeling too much. Maybe sometimes, but not forever. I needed to remember that I will do whatever it takes. Not to save lives but to love people and to help. I don’t think I owe it to people, but I think its against who I am, who we are, to stay silent. I’ll do whatever it takes. I will choose to live even when I lose the will. I will fight when I feel weak. I will be brave when I feel afraid. I will die when its my time to die, but not before. I will continue to press on because that’s what I have to do. Despite the crippling fear, I will do what it takes.
Mr. Stark, there is a world of people out there who need a super hero. But you did more than just be a super hero for people. To me, you are the reminder that there is a little bit of super hero in all of us. We live in a world desperate for a sliver of hope and maybe to some people these are just movies, but to other people, to the desperate, those movies are reminders. Even in the darkest of times, we will rise up to the challenge. We will survive and press on and fight another day. We will do whatever it takes to seek mercy and do justice. We will walk tall after panic attacks, fight the mental illness rummaging through our bodies, and we will press on despite our doubts.
Tony Stark, thank you. I know you’re not real and there are real life people to thank too. But there were a lot of times where I felt like I had nobody. But these movies made me realize that no matter how alone you felt, you always had Steve and Pepper and Natasha and Peter and….well, and I do too. I have my own Avengers. I have never been alone and neither have you.
Thank you. Thank you for everything.
I wish there were more words.