Artwork by Johanna Benthal.

My daughter, Johanna and I are big fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Our Marvel fandom began about seven years ago with a reference Johanna made during one of her neurosurgery appointments.

The neurosurgeon informed us that he needed to revise her shunt because it was malfunctioning, causing pressure in her brain. He suggested placing the catheter to drain from her brain into her heart. It had previously drained in the abdomen.

With that announcement, Johanna placed her little hand over her heart and felt the medi-port that also drained near her heart. She said, “Now I really feel like Iron Man.” I asked “Who or what is ‘Iron Man?” The disbelief on my daughter’s face told me I had definitely missed some big movies.

The next few months were tough for Johanna as she was in and out of the hospital. We used the time to catch up with phases one and two of the MCU movies. I was hooked — especially after we watched Chris Hemsworth in “Thor.”

We are such devoted fans that in preparation for the heart-breaking conclusion of MCU in “Endgame,” Johanna and I watched all the movies in chronological order. I even researched trying to get tickets to Comic-con so we could meet our favorite Marvel actors in real life.

Yes, we are Marvel nerds.

The MCU action-packed adventures gave us hours of fun and laughter in the midst of trying times. The themes of good vs. evil and regular people rising up with superhero gifts to do good in this world and beyond inspire many.

The movies inspire Johanna to discover her own gifts which I think qualifies her as a superhero — at least in my eyes.

When COVID-19 arrived in New York a few weeks ago, I turned to my faith for strength and encouragement. But I also kept thinking about these recent Marvel movies and the changed lives after a perilous event threatens the world.

For those of you with no context, please allow me to briefly explain. In the second to last installment of Marvel movies, “Infinity Wars,” a crazy alien guy causes worldwide destruction on earth with a simple snap of his fingers that were empowered by the use of these ancient stones. His philosophy was to destroy half the population by this viral and fast “epidemic” — i.e. the snap of his finger — and the world would be a brighter place.

Only, obviously it didn’t work like that. Families were decimated by loss and the whole infrastructure of the world’s economies were destroyed in “the snap.” Life as they knew it was changed forever. In the Marvel Universe, the changed earth was accounted as life before and after- “the snap.”

We started our physical isolation almost a week before most other families because of how vulnerable my daughter is to infection. Times of isolation and the cessation of regular commitments and programs are not new to us because of her medical condition.

But what is new is that the systems in place — aides, church fellowship and community supports — are not readily available, both by our own choice and by mandates rightly imposed by NYS.

So it’s a little harder now.

But in these past three weeks, we’ve experienced a deeper connection as a family. Until the pandemic, I didn’t realize I was so busy advocating that I lost some connections with the loved ones I served at home.

All the programs and things we thought were so important have all come to an abrupt stop — in a snap — that took us by surprise. But as life comes to a screeching halt, all we have left is each other.

And in the end, does anything else matter?

Yes, the stability of our economy matters. Jobs matter. Keeping a roof over our heads and feeding our families matter — very much. More than most, I know these things matter.

We lost a lot in the crash of 2008. My husband lost his career job and we struggled as he looked for a new job while we barely survived on unemployment. We filed for bankruptcy, buried under by hospital bills. Our house went into foreclosure as I struggled to balance brain surgeries with a pending auction of our home.

While politicians and pundits fought over the 2009 stimulus package and how it would damage Americans for years to come, we used many of those programs to rebuild our lives, get our house out of foreclosure and to start two businesses working from home.

We nearly lost everything — except each other.

Sure, our family bears scars from that time and it aged us. However, thanks to a providential mixture of government programs, gritty resolve, and amazing grace, we rebuilt our lives.

Almost 10 years later, we were able to sell our home for a profit and renovate the one where we live now, which ironically sat empty in those years we were rebuilding our lives.

In a snap — alone at the hospital or together in our homes — everything we’ve built could be lost. But if there’s one thing I learned from the crash of 2008 — and from the times we’ve had to start over after medical setbacks — we can all rebuild if we do it together.

Some days I wish we lived in the Marvel Universe and Iron Man (OR THOR!) would come walking through my door to save the day. In those fictional stories, our faith and hope are inspired by the heroes and in the love that they show for others.

Although it’s unlikely that Marvel Avengers will be coming to our homes (but wouldn’t that be cool?!) heroes exist among us.

Our heroes are the healthcare providers – EMS, nurses, doctors, therapists, social workers, and direct support personnel who are working with the sick, the elderly and the disabled to protect them and care for them in the midst of COVID-19.

Hero teachers are guiding students online as hero parents are trying to balance budgets and jobs while educating their children and teens now in school at home. Hero leaders of civil services in the police, fire and elected officials are balancing staying connected with our communities while maintaining safe distances so they can continue to serve.

Our heroes in the media (a special thanks to RiverheadLOCAL) keep us informed and educated so we can make decisions to keep our loved ones safe. Hero pastors who sit alone in churches reach out to their flocks online feed our hungry souls with messages from God.

Local businesses and heroes at our restaurants and vineyards are quickly reinventing their distributions so they can feed us and bring joy to the heroes on the frontlines.

There is a hero that lies within each one of us, but especially in the children and the most vulnerable among us. The elderly we now protect and wave to from behind glass windows worked hard and fought many battles — some even off at war — so that we could enjoy the freedom in which we live.

Babies are still being born and so remind us that life will go on beyond this pandemic. The children still laugh and give us reason to get up and face another day in isolation — reminding us that we are never alone.

Here at my house, my husband is our hero as he is our chosen contact with the world outside our home. Each week he dons his mask and gloves to get the groceries and runs quick errands so that Johanna and I can remain safe at home.

Some mornings I wake up and cry silently in my bed or on my knees in my living room where I attend daily Mass. I long for the day when I can touch the presence of my Lord in Holy Communion.

Some mornings I tell the Lord it’s just too much to deal with the fear of my daughter contracting this virus and being whisked away to a hospital where she could die alone.

But then my little hero calls to me from her quiet spot in the family room, where she watches the sunrise through the sliding glass doors as she sips her morning coffee and thinks about her day.

We talk about her plans for the day. Even though she knows she won’t be venturing out to work at the donut shop or make her rounds in our local community with an aide, she has her plans that reach beyond the confines of our home and press the limits of her disabilities.

Her hero gifts all flow from her greatest desire to inspire hope in the midst of extreme trials. Johanna was created with this gift of hope; it’s written into her DNA from the moment of her conception.

She works hard at her artwork and in singing songs with messages of hope. One could be fooled by the simplicity of her gifts until you know the trials she’s endured.

Yet, she chooses hope.

Johanna was right when she said she feels like Iron Man. She is a superhero the likes of Iron Man and Wonder Woman. But it’s got little to do with the hardware in her body and everything to do with the gift of hope she brings to our world.

When this pandemic of COVID-19 is over — please God, soon — we will likely be living in a world that is forever changed. The irony is that the future of our society partly depends on the decisions we are making in isolation at home.

Don’t let COVID-19 bury your talents or steal your hope.

Find the heroes in your midst and let their strengths shine. Look within yourself to find your inner hero and share your gifts with your family, our community and the world online.

The world is waiting for you to be a hero and it all begins at home.

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Eileen Benthal
Eileen is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Email Eileen