There is a superpower within us all

Ted Strollo was an Italian immigrant and master wood carver who came to California for a better life. He had few possessions, no family and no job.

Illustrations by John Weiss.

He built a little cabin in the woods above the town of Los Gatos. He drank acorn coffee. He was a kind man and a master woodworker. Out of a single piece of wood he created an amazing sculpture with perfect cylindrical balls in the middle. He called the piece his “mystery tree of life.”

Ted Strollo’s life was quiet and solitary, until the day he was struck by a vehicle and hurled twenty feet through the air.

The Mystery Tree of Life

My father, an administrative law judge, was driving home from work when he witnessed the accident. He pulled over and rendered aid. He followed the ambulance to the hospital and spoke to the police and doctors.

My father learned that the victim was an Italian immigrant named Ted Strollo, and that he had no family. He discovered that Ted possessed no money for legal representation, so he decided to intervene and help.

Ted spent over a month in our home recuperating. He stayed in our guest room and my mother prepared his meals and did his laundry. When he recovered my father found him an affordable apartment and secured some state benefits.

We used to visit Ted on weekends. My father would buy him Stella Dora cookies and new socks. Dad once told me, “Johnny, the elderly are often forgotten and overlooked. They have much to teach us if we’re willing to take the time and listen.” I never forgot that.

Before Ted Strollo passed away he gave my father his prized wooden sculpture, the “mystery tree of life.” We kept it in our family for many years before Dad donated it to an Italian cultural society.

The Son Became the Father

My father lost his battle with dementia and renal complications in 2004. It had been a difficult couple of years for me. In many ways, the father became the son and the son became the father. I was so thankful I had the opportunity to be there for him.

I shepherded my father through his medical odyssey and handled all the legal arrangements for my mother. We held a beautiful memorial, buried Dad and tried to return to our daily lives.

I read once about something called, “the second death.” When we die, our loved ones live on and remember us. They reminisce about the past and our lives together. They look at the old photographs.

Sometimes they pass down stories about us to their grandchildren. But eventually, we are forgotten. And that is our “second death. ”

The Superpower In Us All

Each of us holds a superpower within us. Not the kind of superpower we see in Spiderman movies, but a real superpower that can be wielded by young and old alike.

I watched my father use his superpower the day he helped Ted Strollo and brought him home to recuperate. My mother used her superpower too, cooking and caring for Ted.

What is this mysterious superpower?


Each of us has the power to improve the lives of others. Whether buying a homeless man a cup of coffee, nursing an Italian immigrant back to health, or helping your kids with their homework.

Perhaps we will never know how our charitable actions help redirect a wayward soul. Maybe our kindnesses will be forgotten with subsequent generations as we approach our “second death.”

That’s okay. True heroes don’t act for personal glory but for the greater good.

Who knows how many acts of kindness my father set in motion by helping Ted Strollo? How many people did Ted Strollo positively touch in his remaining years?

A Sort of Grace in This World

We may never know, but kindness and charitable actions towards others produce a sort of grace in this world. Such actions make the world a better place. They elevate humanity.

We may forget the names of these angels on earth who selflessly help others, but through their kindnesses and charity, they make a difference.

When we emulate them, we inch a bit closer to the divine. And that is a much greater thing than personal legacy.

Learn to wield your superpower. It’s easy to forget because life gets in the way. Still, your act of kindness today may help someone assist another tomorrow. A positive chain reaction will bloom, thus improving the lives of many down through the generations. It will enrich your soul, too.

People who spread kindness and charity among others may never see the positive ripples, but they contribute to the best of us. Perhaps a piece of their spirit lives on in us.

In this way, we transcend our “second death” and become part of the eternal dignity of mankind. Kindness is a superpower that we all possess.

Before You Go

I’m John P. Weiss. I paint, draw and write about life. Thanks for reading.
This article first appeared on Medium