Much of the work we do for our kids, whether as parents or as siblings or as detached aficionados of the adorable, involves fiction. We tell children stories, about dragons and princes and mischievous monsters. We inform them of the doings of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. We create worlds meant to inspire them and soothe them and delight them and protect them.
Usually, we do this work on our own, individually: at bedtime, at storytime, with toys and dolls and movies. We don't normally get residents of the real world to help us create our story worlds. The fictionalization of childhood is something that plays out, in general, at the level of the family. The parent. The teacher.
Except when it doesn't. Except when the fiction involves a massive, verging-on-city-wide effort—to inspire a kid, and soothe him, and delight him, and protect him. Sometimes, the fiction plays out along the lines of a network.
I mention this because of Batkid. In everyday life—the life that can be all too nonfictional—the Batkid is named Miles. He is 5 years old. He lives, with his family, near San Francisco. He has been battling leukemia since he was nearly 2. He is, and hopefully will remain, in remission.
Another thing about Miles: He loves Batman. Which led his parents to write to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, asking it to help them perpetrate, for and on behalf of their son, the ultimate fiction. They wanted Patricia Wilson, head of the foundation in the Bay Area, to make Miles a Batkid. They wanted him to spend a day saving San Francisco.
We can do that, Wilson thought, and she began putting the call out to volunteers to help turn San Francisco into Gotham City for a day for the boy from Tulelake (Siskiyou County).
What happened next was both understandable and wonderfully surprising: The foundation was flooded with offers of help—so many that Wilson found herself having to turn volunteers away. A local guy offered his Lamborghini to become a Batmobile. A local woman offered to be a "damsel in distress." The police cooperated. So did local merchants. So did the local paper. The foundation's initial request for help, the San Francisco Chronicle puts it, "might as well have been a worldwide Bat-Signal."
Word of the foundation's efforts spread quickly on social media, and soon what started as a small effort to make a 5-year-old boy a hero for the day turned into a citywide extravaganza, with support and volunteers coming in from all over.
As a result, today, the streets of San Francisco are flooded with well-wishers who want to play a tiny, and also incredibly large, role in a young boy's life. The city most obviously associated with our most idealistic impulses toward communication and connection and "making the world suck less" has come together, IRL, to give a kid his wish. And the rest of us are watching the heartwarming/weep-worthy results, via live video feeds, via YouTube videos, via still images, via tweets. We're all, in our way, helping to tell Miles a story he'll remember for the rest of his life.