Monday, 14 July 2014

Jeffrey Baldwin and the best of Superman

Jeffery Baldwin, a five year old boy, got the best of Superman.

Jeffrey was a tragic victim of child abuse who died in a cold a dirty bedroom of his grandmother’s house. He weighed twenty pounds.

His grandparents are serving life sentences for second degree murder.

The subsequent coroner’s inquest came up with 103 recommendations to close gaps in the child welfare and protection system.

An Ottawa resident, Todd Boyce, started a campaign to erect a bronze statue of Jeffrey in an east end Toronto Park, both as a memorial and as way of giving some meaning and hope to this tragic death.

The statue would be of Jeffrey in a Superman costume, with the Superman insignia on his chest. But the owners of the copyright for the image and emblem of Superman, DC Entertainment, refused permission for the image and emblem to be used. They were not comfortable with the association with child abuse.

Cue the twitterverse.

After a few days of tweets, social media postings and other on line comments, DC Entertainment reviewed their position and gave the artist the right to use the Superman image and emblem for the statue.

Jeffrey, whose short life had been one of misery and privation, finally won.

And thank you to DC Entertainment for understanding both the power of their image and the value of seeing it used in such a positive way.

People who own intellectual property want to protect the way their property is used. I understand that. But the larger issue here, at least for me, is how such images are used to add to the larger human story. It’s sometimes called memorialization, and it matters.

Whenever I preside at a funeral I always remind people that they are now the carriers of the memory of the person who has died. That person can no longer speak for themselves. It is us, the living, who carry on their memory.

So what kind of memorialization is important to you?

It used to be that we erected great statues in public parks of people we wished to memorialize. We don’t do that as often, so the gesture for Jeffrey is significant.

More often we inscribe gravestones with the date of birth and death. Sometimes a picture is etched on the stone. Other times it might be a truck for a transport driver or a picture of the family farm.

I recall seeing a statue of a man and women, naked, and entwined in a deeply passionate embrace, at one grave in a cemetery. I almost told them to get a room, but then I realized how silly I was being. They were statues, and it was how the family wished their loved ones to be remembered.

Our memorializations matter. Just as Jeffrey and his tragic story will be remembered by the statue of him flying and free in his Superman costume, the memorials we have for our own family and friends are important.

It might be a place such as a cemetery with a grave. It could also be a memorial fund with the Community Foundation or a church or a scholarship fund at a high school, college or university. It could be a tree planted in a cultivated forest or a flower in a garden.

The point is not what the memorial is, specifically, but that in its existence t is helps us to recall and reflect something of who that person was.

Thanks for the memories, Jeffrey, as painful as those memories are for us. In the end, you won. You got the best of Superman. And we will remember you.

Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County