My 3-year-old boy came to me and asked why I looked sad. It was just after 5 p.m., and I was staring blankly at the television while a news program delivered yet another dismal offering in the long string of bad news we've all been watching lately.
"The world is in trouble," I said.
"You can save it, Daddy!" he replied.
"No, I'm getting too old to fix what's wrong on our planet," I explained to him, and I paused, "But you aren't. You can be my superhero! You can save the planet!"
"Yeah!" he cheered.
My son smiled a beaming smile and gave me a big hug. He then proceeded to leap around the room demonstrating his superhero prowess while planning his world rescue operation. If confidence and energy are among the qualifications for a superhero, my boy is on his way.
As he attempted to fly around the room, I reminded my son that while all superheroes have a special power, not all of them can fly. He stopped leaping and for a moment looked almost glum. Then I suggested that his special power might be something else, like his ability to think, but that it might take a lot of hard work to make that a super ability.
"No, I want to fly!" he said, leaping off in yet another direction.
I smiled and shook my head as he bounded away. My son will one day set aside his notions of unassisted flight, but the truth of the matter is that I don't know any better than he does how to save the planet, or what skills would best suit him in the effort.
Luckily, kids have a tendency to create their own strong suits.
I was surprised the other day to watch my boy playing a pirate game on the computer. He was pausing after each move and assessing the moves of the pirate ships coming towards him, and he was adjusting his strategy as the opposing pirates moved about.
A 3-year-old who understands strategy? Perhaps he would like a cape with his superhero outfit!
We've come to a point in our history when we need to impress upon our children the need for heroic action, and I am serious when I tell my son that he can save the planet. I don't know that he will, of course, but I know he'll never try if he doesn't think it's possible.
If our planet is to be saved, its saviors are likely to be among today's children. Obviously, there is no way to know which of our children may grow up to save the planet, or in what way, but I do believe that the ones who try will be the ones who were raised to believe that they can succeed.
One day, one of our children could look into the fusion mystery and discover a practical solution to harness the power that drives the stars. One of our children could become the botanist who stumbles upon a biological process that efficiently removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while creating a viable new fuel and/or food source.
Maybe one of our children will have a fresh insight in global economics that could set the world on a sustainable path of development. Another of our children could grow to become a great leader who recognizes the true talents of that global economist, of that botanist, of that fusion scientist.
In all likelihood, many of the problems of our world will not be solved by the random luck of single individuals. Most of the challenges faced by our planet will only be surmounted by the concerted effort of many individuals working together, pooling their individual talents in pursuit of a larger goal.
We can all help to make the world a better place. We can encourage our children to learn, to practice conservation, and generally to reduce their burden on the planet by contributing as well as by consuming. This isn't the American Way as it was taught to my generation, but it will be the way of America's future.
And perhaps, one of our children will become a superhero, and save the planet.
Michael Wittig is a stay-at-home parent and long-term Juneau resident.