Never say never. Last week I would have told you that I would NEVER write a sappy contrived column. I would NEVER succumb to cheap sentiment or clichéd story lines but if life has taught me one thing, it’s to never get too comfortable with your beliefs.
As some of you may know, I am a daily peruser of the newspapers but nothing to in depth. I mostly scan the headlines looking for personal interest stories and, in particular, stories where bad things happen to everyday people. Give me car accidents, shooting sprees, mass lay-offs and knuckleheads getting killed accidently because they thought it would be a hoot to hop the fence at the zoo and get their picture taken with a lion. Or give me a delicious Dear Abby column where some ignorant rube catches his wife cheating with his best friend for the 3rd time and wants to know if it’s politically correct not to get his best friend a Christmas present this year because of it. That’s the stuff that lights my fire.
Boy, do I love those stories. I drink my coffee in the morning while gleefully rejoicing in others misfortune. I read these stories and think thoughts like:
“I would NEVER do that, he deserved to die”
“Wow, what a stupid jury, I would NEVER have voted innocent”
“Well, she should have seen that coming”
“Wow, I would never go bankrupt if I won the lottery”
“That’s going to leave a rash”
With each golden nugget I uncover in the paper I cobble together these disparate calamities in my mind so as to reinforce my feeble beliefs about how life should work. I attempt to weave a magical “cause and effect” thread through all the random events as if by projecting my convoluted logic onto these stories I can prevent them from happening to me.
And it gets worse. I secretly rejoice when I hear about a friends divorce or financial misfortune. Sure, sure, I say “Oh that’s terrible” publicly but in private I scratch down another tick mark on the secret score card I keep buried in the darkest regions of my mind. I keep a running tally of my successes and failures and compare that to others successes and failures, always grading on the curve, of course, so that my life stands head and shoulders above everyone else.
Which brings us to this past Saturday morning when I jumped out of bed, donned my running gear and headed out for my weekly spiritual trek towards the Promised Land, the Temple of Starbucks. I scuffled along listening to show tunes on my iPod arriving at my destination like I do every week. I purchased my coffee, bagel and newspaper then plunked down at an outside table to get my morning fill of caffeine and self-righteous superiority. I unfurled the paper and saw a front page photograph of a 5 year old boy dressed in a Batman suit.
My brain did a double take, “What’s this, another sappy story about some stupid kid?” Against my better judgment I glanced at the first paragraph of the story which was sure to be a trite post regarding some hapless cause.
The story was about a 5 year old boy who had been battling leukemia his whole life and had been granted a wish from the Make A Wish Foundation. His wish was to ‘Save Gotham city’. The foundation had coordinated a whole day with the city of San Francisco and its officials to enact a scenario where the boy could act out his wish.
I felt a small pang of emotion begin to stir from somewhere deep inside me, below the layers of skeptical practicality and hard won cynicism. I kept reading. The local newspaper, The San Francisco Chronicle, had been there to report on what had become a worldwide story. The paper had even gone as far as actually printing the Saturday morning paper as if it were a real story. That is to say, they covered the story as if San Francisco had actually been threatened by real super villains and then been saved by a mysterious super hero , The Bat Kid! There were pictures of the Bat Kid saving a woman from a speeding train and foiling would be bank robbers all the while thousands of San Franciscans looked on and cheered.
I continued to read the article but my emotions were now getting the better of me. The thought of all these adults playing along to make a kid’s wish come true broke the damn inside me. The tears began flowing freely. It wasn’t just the sweet story about a sick kid. It was the pictures in the paper and the way EVERYBODY completely embraced the story. The entire city came out to cheer for their hero; city politicians dressed up as super villains, crusty old journalist wrote gushing tributes to the mighty mite and even the mayor assembled the masses at city hall to give thanks to this fearless superhero . As I read these articles and looked at the pictures I could feel the joy and compassion of all those people collectively pouring out towards that boy. The boy’s wish had given people an opportunity to briefly transcend themselves and be lifted out of their ordinary lives. This event had allowed people from all over to rally and pretend for one day that the world really was about helping each other. Given that opportunity they came by the thousands.
I couldn’t even read the whole article, I was sobbing outside Starbucks! I stuffed the paper in my pocket, pushed my ear buds deep into my ears and began the slow jog home with tears streaming down my face. The story flushed from hiding my compassion for my fellow man. Like a flood that sends rats scurrying to the surface, my deep seated feelings of love and compassion were now filling my head with memories from childhood and the innocent beliefs I held about life on this planet. As a child I KNEW that the world and the people in it were good. And then I grew up.
We may be born innocent but we wise up quickly or else. Life hurts and we learn to cover up. We learn to roll with the punches, cut our losses and save ourselves. We are born with a limitless capacity to love and feel compassion for others but are conditioned over time, through fear and ignorance, to ration our love as if it were a scarce resource. Then one day when you least expect it, you find that life still has the capacity to surprise and inspire you. You remember that life is not meant to be survived but rather it’s a journey to someplace unknown and we have been given a rudimentary GPS to help us; namely our emotions. In short, if it feels bad stop doing it, if it feels good do it again. Thanks to the Bat Kid for having the courage to stand up and help show us the way. Let’s do it again.
Thank you Bat kid!