When I was a child of 6 or 7, I would occasionally dress like Robin the Boy Wonder (Batman's sidekick). No joke. I'd put on a red swimsuit and tights and fasten a yellow towel around my neck with a safety pin.
No, really. I have pictures.
I mention this not simply to point out how geeky I was as a child, though this is demonstrably true. (Again, I have the photos.) No, I raise the issue of my cross-dressing past to show that, from a very young age, I longed to be a superhero and help people in need.
I dreamed up dozens of scenarios in which I would, for example, pull a child from a burning building, push someone out of the way of a careening station wagon or even bring a neighbor important mail that was mistakenly delivered to our house. Sadly, however, throughout my childhood, no clear opportunities for heroism ¬— not even the misdirected letter — presented themselves.
As I grew older, I began to question my qualifications for heroism. I mean, some people act swiftly and courageously in dire circumstances and others stand paralyzed like a deer in headlights. I had a nagging suspicion that I might be less like Robin the Boy Wonder and more like Bambi's mother.
My fears were confirmed two years ago when I was teaching my daughter how to drive and she mistook the gas pedal for the brake, driving us into a construction trailer. Now, in my defense, this all took place in the space of two seconds. Still, I had to wonder if someone with quicker reflexes might have grabbed the steering wheel or pulled up the emergency brake. Instead, I closed my eyes and yelled, "Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!" As superhero auditions go, it was not promising.
Since that incident, I've abandoned my childhood ideal of heroically saving someone, though I still try to help people in difficult situations when I can. For example, I recently guided a blind man across a complicated intersection in Boston. I nearly killed us both in the process, but luckily he didn't seem aware of it. As we parted ways, though, it occurred to me that, just possibly, he was better off without my help.
In general, I feel that my skill set might be well suited to helping someone who is lost — perhaps a tourist from another country who is visiting Boston. For instance, what if that person can speak only French? This would be an incredibly convenient coincidence, since that is the only other language I speak; I could be a real hero to that person. Or, at the very least, I could take his photo in front of Faneuil Hall.
Opportunities for assisting lost people occasionally present themselves as I walk to my bus stop in Boston. Just last Friday, a woman hesitantly approached me.
"Can you help?" she asked in accented and halting English. "I need Back Bay train."
"You mean the 'T'?" I asked. "The subway?" She didn't understand. "Under ground?" I tried. I made hand motions that were supposed to indicate something subterranean, but probably just looked like I was doing the Macarena.
"Yes?" she replied tentatively. "I think?"
I was delighted. This was right up my alley, so to speak. We were just around the corner from the Copley MBTA stop, so I motioned for her to follow me and pointed to the other end of the block. She seemed dubious, but I tried to communicate that she shouldn't worry, she'd see the "T" entrance when she got there. She thanked me, and I raced off to catch my bus.
Two blocks later, a new thought occurred to me. What if she had meant an Amtrak train? Like, for example, the train I take to New York regularly; the one that actually has a station stop called "Back Bay?" At this point, I was hitting myself in the head repeatedly; passers-by were giving me a wide berth, but I didn't care. Here had been my perfect opportunity to help someone in need and probably I had made her predicament worse.
I wondered if someone else would be able to help her. Her English had seemed so minimal and her accent so thick. What was that accent, anyway? I knew I could identify it.
That's when it hit me. Holy deer-in-the-headlights, Batman. It was French.
For the safety of the world, I'm turning in my cape.
Nancy Crochiere is a freelance writer and editor who tries to look at the vagaries of modern family life with humor. You can e-mail her in care of firstname.lastname@example.org.