On November 15, 2013, parts of San Francisco were transformed into “Gotham City” in order to fulfill a 5-year-old leukemia survivor’s “Make-A-Wish” wish.
Miles Scott, 5, donned a “Batkid” costume and responded to several make-believe distress calls, all while being cheered on by city leaders, state leaders, celebrities, and thousands of residents who came to participate. He helped save a damsel-in-distress in Nob Hill; jailed the Riddler in the Financial District; and rescued our SF Giants mascot “Lou Seal” from the evil clutches of the Penguin at AT&T Park. He and his cavalcade then made their way to City Hall in the Civic Center, where Mayor Ed Lee presented Miles with a key to the city while thousands of onlookers—many teary-eyed—applauded and expressed their gratitude to Miles, a.k.a. Batkid, for making the city streets safer.
A more detailed summary of “Batkid Day” can be found using the link at the bottom of this blog post.
The crowd of supporters was as varied as the city in which these events took place. The appeal of Batkid Day crossed many borders: age, race, income level, education level, and many more. For a few hours, these disparate groups of people came together in an overwhelming display of support and compassion. We weren’t focused on our differences because leukemia and other cancers can affect anyone.
The fictional character of Batman doesn’t necessarily have universal appeal, but it’s pretty darn close. We live in a culture (in America, anyway; I can’t speak for other countries) where superhero worship seems to be at an all-time high. If Miles’s wish had been about Superman or Spiderman, I doubt the turnout would have been any less magnificent.
As Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area executive director Patricia Wilson said, Miles already battled a villain in real life, by fighting cancer.
As I watched the crowd of onlookers, a momentary sadness came over me. I wondered if perhaps some of them were just here to witness the event, without fully understanding why it had come about. My suspicion was confirmed when I heard someone refer to Miles as “the luckiest kid in the world” for having this day dedicated to him in this way.
No child—nobody of any age, for that matter—who has spent years battling an illness can be considered the luckiest in the world. Miles’s leukemia is currently in remission, but his battle will never be over.
Miles was thanked for helping to make the streets of San Francisco safer. The children within us cheered because, like Miles, we believed. We cried because it was so touching. For a few hours, we lived in a world sheltered from the truth.
The truth is that our city streets are not safer. The real villains carry guns and shoot people randomly, kick people when they’re already down, steal for themselves and perpetrate all kinds of atrocities that it is not my intention to list here. There is no one superhero who can battle all these villains and ensure justice is served. It takes many people, many communities—creating laws, enforcing those laws, adjusting them as humanity’s sense of morality continues to mature and evolve—to become that superhero.
My momentary sadness washed away as I discovered how far and wide this story had affected people. It wasn’t confined to San Francisco. Social media was abuzz with Batkid links all day and all throughout the evening. Not just links to the story, though—social media was abuzz with an outpouring of emotion. Proclamations such as “I’m in tears” and “this is so moving” were common.
A cynic might say something like, “It’s too bad people can’t come together like this for real tragedies, such as, for example, the recent devastation still in effect from Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda.” I know a cynic might say this because no matter how much optimism and hope I’m presented with, a cynic lurks deep within my psyche, constantly threatening my mood with its comparisons of one tragedy to another. But there is no comparison. We do what we can, and the truth is, most of us do what’s easy. I didn’t personally help coordinate any of yesterday’s Batkid activities; I merely attended the tail-end of it as an onlooker. Everything was already set up for me and all I had to do was show up. Effortless.
As social media and the Internet continue to join people together, it takes less and less effort to become involved in helping people. This is a positive thing. The real effort is still there—someone has to set it up in the first place—but rounding up supporters becomes easier. I’ll be going into more detail on this in a future blog entry, specifically about relief efforts for victims of the largest, most destructive typhoon this planet has ever experienced. For that, I’ll wait a few weeks, by which time I suspect much media will have dropped the story, even while the survivors are still suffering its disastrous effects.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to smile at all the reports/shares/re-tweets of Batkid Day, knowing that despite all the ugliness we are faced with every day, there exists deep within our collective psyche a desire, a yearning to champion the possibilities our human race can accomplish, even when brought about by one small boy’s small wish.
For more information about Batkid’s adventures in San Francisco, a.k.a. Gotham City: http://www.buzzfeed.com/ryanhatesthis/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-make-a-wish-foundation
For more information about the Make-A-Wish foundation: http://sf.wish.org/about-us/our-chapter/