San Diego has surrendered itself to Comic-Con again this year. It seems like everyone in television and radio is broadcasting live from downtown. Hotels are overbooked, the streets are clogged, restaurants have hour-long waits – it must be Comic-Con time. This yearly event is said to bring in 130,000 people. On Wednesday night, the Marshalls found themselves downtown and got caught up, literally, in the event. There are costumes galore, wide ranging events from an MTV party-garden to a zombie show, and even random groups of sharks walking around promoting a television event. As far away as 17th and Market, we saw a fully-costumed robot crossing the street. Of all the visitors to our fair city, one sticks out in my mind, Kevin Doyle. You might know him better as the storm trooper; of Star Wars fiction, not World War II reality; who walked from Petaluma (north of San Francisco) to San Diego for Comic-Con.
Doyle, 57, lost his wife Eileen to pancreatic cancer in 2012. They had been married just one year. Since her death, he says he has been lost. She died on November 7th and he feels as if he’s stuck on that date. Both artists, passionate about Star Wars, were a natural fit. He proposed to her dressed as Darth Vader; R2D2 was their ring bearer. After she died, he has been unable to produce art. His creativity, it seems, died with her. Like pilgrims walking to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, Doyle decided to walk to San Diego to clear his mind and come to peace with the death of his wife.
Grief is a theme that plays out quietly behind the scenes in the Star Wars trilogy. In the wake of the death of Luke’s adopted parents, he decides to venture out and train to become a Jedi. When the giant weapon called the Death Star destroyed the entire, peaceful planet of Alderaan, the rebel force bet their entire existence upon one attack to stop more destruction. And, for those who really follow Star Wars, even the sub-plot of how the much-beloved character of Chewbacca joined up with Han Solo can be seen as reaction to grief.
It was no surprise to me to find out that a grieving widower and Star Wars fan decided to embark on a pilgrimage for his late wife by walking 645 miles in a storm trooper outfit. Along the way, Doyle walked past Camp Pendleton. This was a particularly moving and important experience for him as this was the birth place of his wife. He said it was like he had brought her home.
The Force is a major part of Star Wars. It is a binding, metaphysical, and ubiquitous power in the fictional Star Wars universe. It is a power that brings people together and also forces them into situations where the characters learn about themselves and find they can accomplish more than ever imagined. There is nothing fictional about these underlying themes of grief and love. Nor is there anything fictional about God’s peace and grace. I’d say the force runs strong with this one – in the sense that Doyle embarked on a campaign to let go of his wife and to find peace. He also has made the journey of grief easier for many others who long to do this same thing. This pilgrimizing storm trooper has become a symbol of love and hope to many who struggle. Truly, the Grace of God is with him, perhaps even the force, too.