Five princesses, each in costumes of purple and blue and flowing green, five tiny little princesses can fill a Taco Bell with their energy. Like a tornado on the prairie, they burst into the Taco Bell where my wife and I were sharing some nachos. They crawled, giggling and squirming all over the booth where they were "corralled" in the loosest sense of the word. More napkins, more taco sauce, then straws and definitely more water, always more water. Their desperate errands propelled them from booth to drink machine to condiment counter in unceasing energy. Then, of course, there was the bathroom. There was hardly a single five-minute span in which one or two or more of those princesses was not sprinting to or from the bathroom at top speed. They were loud little fairies in flight, laughing, seething pixies in constant motion, and in the midst of them, sat my new hero.
My wife and I were never able to figure out which of the princesses was his daughter. He dutifully paid and when their number was called, he fetched their food like a bellhop. He listened to their chatter and called them all by their "princess names." Aurora and Belle and Rapunsel and Jasmine and Mulan. They were all there and he knew who was whom. If he ever got one wrong we saw no sign of it. He was their humble servant, a mute, longsuffering prop in the improvisational theater unfolding around him.
They climbed on him and he seemed oblivious. When they tossed paper missiles at each other, they hid behind him like the boulder he was. At last when one of the princesses took off her tiara and placed it on his head, he just left it there as if removing it would insult her sovereign decree. He wore it patiently with only the faintest of smiles, rather like Quasimodo being crowned king by Parisian revelers.
The only time they were silent or still was when he retuned with the food and said ever so softly, "Ladies, let us pray."
They bowed their royal heads and folded their fingers more like miniature nuns than pastel princesses. Then he prayed, a brief, sweet prayer, thanking God for their food and blessing each girl in turn by her assumed Disney identity. At his amen the riotous fiesta began again and continued until they boiled out to his car and their castle once again became a Taco Bell, quiet now that in the wake of the storm.
As he drove away, I knew. Here is a true hero. Forget your Batman. I sneer at Spidey for the fraud he is. Superman? Ha! Let him hide his face in his own cape. My new hero is that suburban Dad out for a movie and tacos with his daughter and her gaggle of friends. Unembarrassed by their ill fitting gowns or even the tiara which he wore all the way out to the car, he was patient, and kind, and unobtrusive, letting them enjoy each other. He never intruded on their games. He just did two things. He paid and he prayed.
Rutland, I said to myself, there goes a man, a real hero, a king, the father of a princess and the protector royal of her retinue. They were safe princesses, happy and cared for and, above all things, prayed for. He knew they were princesses and they knew he was a kindly king. I saw it in their eyes. He was not just my hero. He was theirs. May his tribe increase.