There was a day, way back when I was still in college, that several ice cream shops advertised free ice cream. I saw posters on King Street a few days in advance. Several times I passed by without reading past the “Free Ice Cream”line. One time I stopped to see what it was all about. This is a simple story that I cannot tell without getting teary. That’s partially because it’s very sweet and partially because I am an enormous sap who’s been known to cry at Publix holiday commercials as well. It turned out that some child, whom I did not know, was cashing in on his Make-A-Wish Foundation wish. We’ve all heard stories of these kids. They’re facing death and they know it. They have the chance to ask for something, anything that will give them a day away from needles and tubes and the sad faces of grown-ups who also know their fate. They ask for all kinds of things, great things that kids should absolutely get to enjoy. They meet pop stars. They party at Disney World. They run the bases at Wrigley Field. They pick one big thing they’d like to do in their entirely too short lives. Jack was different from the others. All he wanted was to be surrounded by smiles. He wanted to share happiness. The best way he could think to make the whole world happy (his words, not mine) was to get everyone free ice cream. 5 Year old Jack got his wish with the help of several large ice cream chains. Thanks to Jack I got free ice cream, some important perspective, and a story that I can’t tell without watery eyes.
Yesterday, an entire country away from where I enjoyed my free ice cream, a city came together to make a kid’s dream come true. Most of the country saw something about San Francisco’s “BatKid”. If you missed it — city officials, residents, actors, and pretty much anyone near downtown San Fran worked to turn their town into Gotham City complete with some of Batman’s most famous villains. Batkid, a 5 year old boy fighting leukemia, spent his day running around the city dressed as Batman and taking down the villains. Camera crews and cheering crowds followed him everywhere.
At my job we took photos of ourselves holding “We love Batkid” signs to post on our station’s facebook page. It was a great way to get clicks which translate to viewers and money and all of that, yes, but it was also just awesome to be a tiny (read:very, very tiny) part of a kid’s dream. Heck, Batkid probably won’t ever see those photos. But it doesn’t matter. The point is the attention shifted, for a little while, to something other than murders or drug arrests, or whatever other dark, seedy stuff was happening at the moment. Sometimes Americans can be more than just ourselves. We so often divide over big issues and forget there are very small things that can convince us to team up and put all the division aside for a little while.
I’m sitting here at my laptop having just finished watching CBS San Francisco’s 6pm news coverage of Batkid’s day. The news team went all out. They created comic book style graphics. Their reporter dressed the part of a reporter in a Batman comic. News people can be very serious. We can get really wrapped up in the details of whichever story we’re working on at the moment. We can put a whole lot of importance on what we do, even though we know in the end it’s just local news. The CBS San Francisco team and everyone else who covered Batkid’s day did an awesome job of laying aside the self-importance, the stuff that normally needs to be taken seriously, the hard-hitting journalism – to just help make a kid’s dream come true. It’s a cool thing to see – grown-ups breaking character for a bit.
Sometimes it takes the leadership of a five year old with a good, soft heart and not enough time left on this planet to make us all realize that there are things we don’t have to fight about. There are things we just do because they’re good, and right, and they make some kid as happy as he’ll ever be.