Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Holding Out for a Hero

Whenever I read a news story about a child who saved his sibling by performing CPR (which he learned on Baywatch), or about a teenager who rushed into the neighbor’s burning house to get them out of the fire, it reminds me of my own childhood. Not because I actually did any of those things, of course, but because I so desperately wanted to.

I wanted to save someone’s life. Not the reformed alcoholic or religious awakening type salvation. No, just good old, “you were about to die, and I just saved your life” type saving. My hero phase lasted a few years. At the local swimming pool, I would patrol the deep end, looking for someone who might be getting a cramp. I would stretch my arms and my calves just in case I had to quickly dive in to save an elderly woman. At the playground, I would monitor the younger children to make sure they didn’t get too close to the street, and I’d imagine myself racing after them and tackling them to the grass just seconds before a bus rammed into both of us.

I’m not really sure why I had this fantasy. I wasn’t a strong swimmer or a fast runner. I had enough friends to keep me busy – I didn’t need to indenture some little playmate by saving her life. I was never a thrill seeker, so I don’t think it was the adrenaline rush that appealed to me. And I would blush in school if the teacher singled me out for doing something well, so I can’t say that it was the fame I was after. Maybe I just wanted to know that I could do it – to know that in the face of great danger, I could put aside my own fears and risk my life for someone else’s.

I mean, hopefully, I would have saved somebody really important. Someone whose life would have made a big difference to thousands of others. Like a child prodigy, maybe. You know, I think that might be it – since I wasn’t a child prodigy myself, I at least could have been the kid who saved the child prodigy.

“Who’s that boy?”

“That’s a girl.”

“Oh. Who’s that girl?”

“You know. She’s that one girl who saved that child prodigy.”

“Oh, that’s the girl? Huh. She looked taller in the paper.”

I mean, when you think about it, saving a child prodigy is actually a lot more impressive than being one. Prodigies just are. They don’t choose to write operas at age four or solve complex mathematical equations at age five. Frankly, they can’t help themselves. It’s programmed into their DNA. Prodigies have an urge, a desire, which must be fulfilled at all costs. Relationships are destroyed, families are torn apart, friends are lost, all in the relentless, passionate pursuit of their talent. For god’s sake, didn’t any of you see Amadeus? Or La Bamba?

In fact, child prodigies are really no better than drug addicts. Let’s face it – I’m the one who made the choice. I’m the one who risked my life, just to save that uppity rosin snorting violin genius. Oooh, look at me! I’m a child prodigy! I’m too good to play tether ball with you because I might sprain my piano pinky!

So maybe it’s all for the best that I was never particularly brave or athletic. Thanks to me, there are probably a few less opium smoking, plane crashing, bipolar prodigies out on the streets, and if that doesn’t make me a hero, then I don’t know what does.