Everyone loves to be a hero. Those of us who really are heroes love it just as much, but we don’t make as big a deal out of it as normal people do. Last week the whole family was at my mom’s house and I was standing at the counter, slicing a cake (heroes are often found helping out in the kitchen, but usually only with dessert. Normal people prepare the dinner). My nephew (we’ll call him Gabe, because his mom will love that) was sitting on the other side of the counter, eating some ice cream with his hands. The counter is tall and pretty wide, and Gabe was sitting on a pretty tall chair for an almost-four-year old. I had a big thick knife running down the middle of my chocolate cake when Gabe tipped his chair back a little too far. Out of the corner of my ear I could hear him start to whine as he started to fall backward toward the floor. At that second, everyone in the room knew what was about to happen. In slow motion, Gabe’s chair tipped farther and farther back, its center of gravity clearly shifting toward backwards more than forward. We all knew what was about to happen, but only one of us was born with the raw instinct, the catlike agility, and the spider monkey arms of a true hero. I dove over the counter and grabbed the one piece of Gabe I could possibly get to– his wrist, flailing upward as the back of his head flew toward the wood floor. I caught it; Gabe’s descent halted jerkily, and the chair crashed to the floor, splintering into a thousand pieces (I think). Most importantly, I had remembered to let go of the ten inch knife I was holding when I dove at Gabe. There’s a very good chance his Mom would have forgotten that detail and simply cut Gabe’s hand off as he fell off his chair. Two different kinds of people, I’m telling you.
I do this sort of thing all the time. In fact, that’s not even the first time I’ve saved a kid who was tipping backward off their chair. Just a year ago, my own toddler Molly was doing the same thing. I was all the way at the other end of the table, but it still ended well for her, suspended by an arm in my grip. There was a little more collateral damage that time, as my powerful dive had actually shoved the table so hard that it knocked my other daughter backward off of her chair. At the end of that one I had one safe toddler in my hand, one crying four year old with a goose egg, the completely shattered chair that she had been sitting on (for real this time), and a complete rubble of broken dishes and lukewarm food all over the floor. In my prime I would have dived over the table, instead of jarring it completely across the kitchen. But a hero is defined by his ability to meet his objective, and it was never my objective to keep the kitchen clean.
Remember what it was like to be a kid and have someone tell you you’ve saved the day somehow? I remember getting that feeling after being stung by a bee. It hurt like death, but it stopped when my buddy told me I had killed a bee by getting stung, and started celebrating my triumph. That’s right, I killed a bee. Single handed. Hardly even trying. Feels pretty good. There was also the time Davis had the treadmill up too fast and fell on it. It spit him to the back and left him lying there at the end, and the whirring belt started rubbing his belly right off. I pulled him off of that thing like I was all the Superfriends combined. We both felt pretty sure I had saved his life. Looking back, I guess I probably just saved him from having a bigger rug burn on his stomach, but I still don’t discount the severity of large rug burns, nor their tendency to get fatally infected.
Anyway, that feeling of heroism- the sort of chest busting bubble at the bottom of your throat that makes you want to fly up and survey the rest of the city paternalistically- that’s harder to come by as an adult. That’s partially because when you’re older you tend to dive into tables than you dive over them. But one of my favorite hero moments of heroism was as an adult, probably because it was the only time that I’ve actually been able to come to the aid of a real damsel in distress. We were on vacation in California with Macy’s family. I drove over with the main group to a restaurant, and Macy and her sister Ali rode their beach cruisers to meet us. The bikers didn’t show, and finally Ali wandered in to tell me that Macy needed me. I hopped on her bike and rode back down the road to help my lady. Thirty three year old man, tiny little bit of that hero adrenaline bubbling up, riding a girly little beach cruiser at top speed. Ten minutes later, I found her. She was reclining on the curb, with her bike on top of her. She had a sheepish smile on, and a long flowing orange skirt, which was completely merged with the chain and gears and spokes of the back wheel. It was wound up so tight that Macy had to hold the bike right up against her body, or the skirt would come all the way off. It’s probably one of my top five images of Macy (she’s not often in distress). I suppose it was something like George Bailey felt when he realized why Mary was hiding in the bushes. It’s nice to be a hero.
Macy has learned to bike in more sensible outfits now. But still has a weakness for beach cruisers.
The skirt was not coming out without a fight. The bike couldn’t go one more foot forward without taking the skirt right off of Macy, and Macy couldn’t separate herself from the bike without losing the whole skirt. She was helpless as a falling toddler, probably the only time I’ve ever seen her that incapacitated. So I hopped on my little bike again, rode back to the beach-house, found a tool box, threw it in the pink woven basket on the front of my hero bike, and rode it back to her (with an extra pair of pants). A few minutes later, Macy was free, her bike disassembled and reassembled, and we arrived in time for dinner. Macy’s not the type to bat her eyelids at a guy who can save her when she’s in trouble, but I still enjoy thinking about how much she would melt at my heroism, if she was that type. See, even for us heroes, there’s plenty left to dream about.