A shot from Disney's Pocahontas.

I had the great pleasure of meeting and listening to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Ron Suskind at our recent graduation ceremony for our Professional Program students at West Virginia University.

Ron wrote the book “Life Animated” about his son, Owen and his journey with autism.

Owen progressed normally until about age 3 and then stopped speaking. The only thing that calmed him were Disney movies.

Suskin’s son, Owen. From The New York Times.

After about a year of absent communication with Owen, the Suskind family discovered these movies were their way back to Owen. Owen used these films to borrow dialogue to understand his life. In fact, he memorized all the dialogue in Disney animated movies!

The poignant rapport between Owen’s personal hero’s journey and the hero’s journey in these animated tales is powerful. So is his connection to the sidekicks of the heroes in these films.

Owen met the Pope at the Vatican and told him that he was the protector of the sidekicks and that no sidekick will be left behind. The Pope was touched by Owen’s authentic commitment to protect the helpers that never get their fair share of the credit for the hero’s victory.

There is a universal message of selfless service to others exemplified in the sidekick.

There is also a foundational principle that we don’t need universal recognition to express their best potential. Depending on the context, perhaps the sidekick connects to the spirit of love better than many heroes. As an example, the holy Tao reminds us that the best leaders are the ones where people say, “we did it ourselves”.

Maybe heroes and sidekicks are different just by how we perceive and tell the story.

There is a deep desire by many to find the love or signal in our world. Like in so many of these movies, we all dream of a world where good triumphs and where there is a happy ending for all.

The world we live in today often seems the opposite. Fear/noise predominates over love/signal. We know that people in our state, country and world are dying of despair and hopelessness. Many feel isolated and unloved and isolation may be the most important primary cause of addiction. Much of our populous are in a constant state of dis-ease, which may explain the disease burden we observe.

Maybe fear and separation/fragmentation will yield to love and wholeness/completeness in the future. We know that the root of the word health is –Hal, which translates to whole. Maybe feeling whole and complete allows us to be healthy.

It is fascinating that autism now affect 1 in every 40 children born today. Functionally, autism is a brain disorder that affects interaction and communication in those affected.

We see individuals with autism as flawed.

What if we have it backwards?

What if it is these children and adults with autism are really in contact with the highest signal and vibration in our universe – love.

What if they are the real heroes and we are the sidekicks? Or more likely, we are all both the hero and the sidekick all the time.

Ron described Owen as hyper-present. Well, as all the sages teach us, there is only the present and we are recreated in each moment. The past and the future do not exist and are created by our minds. Meditation and mindfulness is the ability to stay completely in the present moment.

It is interesting that the word atonement, which is the principle tenet of the biblical teachings, can also be said as at-one-ment. Being one with each other and being one with the moment.

Being one with the hero and with the sidekick that live within us.

David Bohm, the physicist and protege of Einstein determined that there is as much energy in one cubic centimeter of air/plenum that we see as empty space as there is stored in all the matter of the universe. If we really focus at creating with that energy, perhaps we begin to create faster and better.

If we can tune into the highest part of that energy, which is love, perhaps we will create a better world and universe.

Using the principle of wave-particle duality, we create with the energy of our universe constantly.

Maybe folks like Owen are a new wave of humans that are deeply connected to the highest resonant energy and are hyper-present and hyper-focused on our shared future.

A future where we all help each other like sidekicks and where we all are the hero of our own journey to live happily ever after.

Almost Heaven.


  • Clay B. Marsh

    Chief Health Officer, West Virginia University

    Clay B. Marsh, MD, is West Virginia University’s chief health officer, and serves as a member of President E. Gordon Gee’s leadership team. As WVU’s vice president for health sciences, he oversees five health sciences schools and three health campuses.