Super J and the Power of Love

Jennifer Nelson’s book conveys the beauty, dignity and power of every human person — especially those with Down syndrome.

The author of ‘Super J and the Power of Love’ visits the inspiration for the book.
The author of ‘Super J and the Power of Love’ visits the inspiration for the book. (photo: Jennifer Nelson)

I begin each class on Friday with a little bit of philosophy, and one of the questions I pose to my students each year is this: if you could have any superpower, what would it be, and why?

I usually hear about popular superpowers like being invisible, super speed, reading people’s minds, moving things with your mind, and teleportation. When I ask them why they want that superpower, the answer, most of the time, is so that they can do something they are not supposed to do, like rob a bank, cheat on tests, manipulate other people, or just take whatever they want, and get away with it.

My purpose in asking these questions is to point out that what they would do with their superpowers reveals to themselves what it is they think will make them truly happy. If I would rob a bank if I could get away with it, it is because I somehow think that robbing a bank will make me happy. 

The real question is: What will make me truly happy? This is the fundamental question of ethics. I followed up this discussion the following week with a reading of the passage about the ring of Gyges from Plato’s Republic, where a shepherd finds a ring that makes him invisible and then uses it to take over the kingdom. If you can get away with being bad, why be good? Is that all superpowers are good for?

In 2017, a 10-year-old boy with Down syndrome, whom we will call J, had to go for surgery. Jennifer Nelson was a friend of the mother and wanted to write something that would encourage them as they approached the surgery. In particular, she wanted J to know how special he was, and that he had this unique ability to connect with people and love.

So, she wrote about Super J, the young man with Down syndrome who had a special superpower, the power to love. 

The story begins with the heart of God in creating this hero and the way the evil one tried to convince his mother that he was a mistake. But his mother knew that God doesn’t make mistakes, and this baby boy was born with the superpower to love unconditionally. This special boy brings joy wherever he goes, and he is friends with everyone. He shows to the world what is most important to God — to love one another.

Jennifer never planned to publish this story, but when she read that the abortion rate of babies with Down syndrome was 100% in the Netherlands and around 80% in the United States, she decided to seek publication. She believes that Satan is purposely trying to have babies with Down syndrome aborted because they present to the world a visible sign of what we should be like to enter the Kingdom of God: loving and childlike.

So, she shared the project with illustrator Sam Estrada, and now the book, Super J and the Power of Love, is available for purchase. They hope that this book will communicate the beauty, dignity and power of every human person — especially those with Down syndrome.

In another recent conversation with students, we talked about what a superpower is, and we concluded that a superpower is some supernatural ability. I pointed out that we all have a superpower: the power of human thought, which is intrinsically supernatural. Because we can think, we can also love — we can will the good of the other.

While most people would choose a superpower so they can take advantage of others or gain an unfair advantage, the power to which Jesus calls all of us, love, must by its nature work for the good of others. All other superpowers can be used for good or for evil, but love can be used only for good. It is the only pure superpower, and it is little boys like Super J that can help us to see what it looks like. 

(For an account of my philosophical conversations with my students, see my book Philosophy Fridays.)