Last week, a five-year-old known as “Batkid” took to the streets of San Francisco, sporting mini-muscled costume and a flowing cape. That day, while the city gamely transformed itself into Gotham, the lucky little boy got a spin in the Batmobile, saved a damsel in distress, and arrested the Riddler. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was provided by the Make-a-Wish Foundation, organization that specializes in granting wishes to kids whose lives are typically about to be cut too short.
Batkid, who goes by Miles Scott during civilian hours, is a leukemia survivor. In June, he ended the last of his chemo treatments, meaning that he is currently in remission. After you “beat” cancer, remission is the gray area you live in for awhile while doctor’s wait with bated breath for possible signs of its return. To say that someone’s won the war while still in the remission stage is misleading. In reality, like after any unprovoked assault, you live for years looking behind your back, making sure no one’s following you. Until, finally, if you’re lucky, it leaves and you forget. A little.
When my brother was 21-months-old, he was diagnosed with leukemia. For years, my family dealt with midnight trips to the emergency room, mom-administered chemo shots, spinal taps, iodine scrubs, a deathly fear of the common cold, and, simply, the reality that my brother could die well before he even entered Kindergarten. It is, to say the very least, a horrible thing for any family to endure, and one whose collective side-effects are not simply fatigue, hair loss, or veins permanently closed from needles and chemo burn. The immediate and lasting impact of childhood leukemia are ones my family knows firsthand. And, though no one really talks about it, the experience lives with each of us.
When I saw Miles, who is about the same age as my brother was when he went into remission, running through crowds of people cheering his name, I could think there was nothing better in the world than to give someone a day like that – not just for Miles, but for every sick kid currently lying in a hospital bed, hoping they’d one day get better. To me, Batkid — even though very much not fully in the cancer clear, as it were – represented hope, this idea that you could get better.
Which was why I was surprised when a friend wrote me, asking if I thought the event was a bad allocation of resources. “Think of how many individual kids they could have helped with that money,” he said. “What about the other kids who want their own Bat Days?”
The grand total, recently released, is coming in at $105,000. San Francisco says it will pay the bill using money charged to conventions that use the city’s Moscone Center. As far as police pay, the cops were all on-duty officials, just shuffled around a bit. The same has been said for the Department of Public Works employees responsible for the cleanup.
Of course I was not the one who had to physically endure cancer. That feat is 100% attributed to my brother. But I can assure you that when you’re stuck in a hospital, getting bone marrow sucked out of you by things that look better suited for testing the resting temperature of a Thanksgiving turkey, there isn’t much room for jealousy. You want to live, and to see someone else who has made it – to see someone who has been stuck in the same stale bed as you with the same itchy sheets and lived under the same florescent hospital glow while every other kid has been able to play outside. When you’ve learned about the fragility of your own mortality while your peers are still coloring sheets of paper and learning new words – witnessing something or someone like Batkid reads as hope. And hope is what matters more than having your own Bat Day.