Let me say right up front that it was shocking for me to see what a fat ass I am on television. And, knowing that I was going to look like a fat ass and still charging forward with this, shows just how much I wanted to make this helicopter flight happen for that sweet boy. Seeing the look on John Henry’s face when that chopper got down to treetop level was worth all the fat jokes I’m sure my friends are too nice to tell, but that I will tell on myself. I am more than happy to take one for the team.
This is a story that has so many facets. This may be a long post, so just get out a box of tissues and settle in with me for a while. With the news of the re-occurrence of my kidney cancer 17 weeks ago, I have been in a state of mind that I’ve never before had to experience. The bruising pressure of knowing you have a tumor inside of the bone of your spine that could grow astoundingly fast and that you are powerless to move the practice of medicine along fast enough to get it taken out in a timely manner (at least, timely to me) is crippling.
During the 15 weeks I spent waiting for the radiosurgery at Emory, I had periods when I couldn’t concentrate. My mind would start running scenarios about possible outcomes of this cancer. One minute I could see myself healed and whole. The next, I would think about what kind of funeral I wanted. Blissfully happy one minute and lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut the next. I did all of this without medication and with a single counseling session with my good friend Stephen Muse at The Pastoral Institute. He agreed to see me, even with his huge caseload, but we agreed there wasn’t much he could do for that that I couldn’t do for myself. I was just sad. Even with my incredible wife and children, I was sad. While still having both my parents and a mother-in-law whom I love, I was sad beyond belief.
The cancer is here. I can’t do anything about it. It is incurable over 90% of the time — an auto-immune juggernaut waiting to metastasize and take me down. This is the way you think when you know there is a malignant tumor growing hot inside of you. What a person in my condition has to do is learn to deal with the sadness. Sometimes it can happen on its own and sometimes it takes an unlikely event to snap you out of the doldrums of a cancer reality.
Then John Henry Clark came along. Bouncing up the sidewalk in his stroller on a cold Saturday morning with an enormous grin and some healing Christmas mojo that he didn’t even know he had. I got that photo. It really is special. So special that I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I kept looking at it and it moved me to tears every single time. There must be some reason this picture touched me so.
Then I heard about his love for helicopters and I knew what I needed to do. I want to thank all the law enforcement folks that made this flight happen today. These guys are the real heroes of the day.
There is much more to this story. That’s the way stories are. I needed John Henry on Saturday. Someone else needed him today. Local WRBL employee, Reggie Phillips, has also been sad during this holiday time. He lost her 24-year old son, John on February 1 of this year. He was a Down Syndrome child, too. John Henry’s thing is helicopters. John Phillips’ thing was Christmas.
Reggie called co-worker Pegi Taylor this morning and said, “I can’t get my Christmas spirit.” She is missing her son, John, and the perpetual Christmas he brought into her life. Pegi asked Reggie to meet her at South Commons this morning at 10:30. Although she didn’t know why, she braved the drizzle and stopped by John Henry’s party this morning. Seeing his joy, his smile and the unconditional love he spreads wherever he goes was just what she needed to open her heart to a Christmas without her precious son.
John Henry’s story is really a story for all of us. What is more healing than a smile, a hug, or a wave from a little blond boy wearing a badge and a crooked cap. It is impossible not to be touched by this little man with the big Christmas spirit. This has been a great day.
Now, I’ll share some great photos taken by my friends Wesley and Neely Ker-Fox, who responded to my call for help at the very last minute this morning, when we realized this flight was going to happen. Thanks, guys!