It’s that time of year again. The subtle scent of Fall with its crackling bonfires, roasted marshmallows, and a breath of fresh cooler air. The crunch of leaf here and there as they begin to drift from the trees. The brisk mornings with snuggly sweaters giving way in the afternoon to bright sunshine and warmer temps. The sound of children running through the aisles at stores, stocking up on school supplies, flashy new clothes, and sharp new kicks. Frazzled parents trying to adjust from the lackadaisical summer schedule, where’s your…..? Are we ready? Do you have your…..?
Yesterday, the hospital where I work had a Healthy Kids Back To School event to celebrate the hospital’s 100th anniversary this year. We did a similar event in July for the summer. We planned it out, assigned roles, and got ready for a fun-filled day. Little did we know what was in store for us. In July, we had about 100 kids. Easy to manage, more personal, enough supplies, plenty of food, and relaxed enjoyment. Yesterday? We had over 400 kids! We ran out of supplies three times, chaos reigned, three kids were injured (unrelated to the event – seizure, heart, and a fall), yet we were still filled with utter joy to serve our community.
At one point, exhausted from the constant stream of children of all ages (from 3 weeks old to 19), I sought refuge inside the pediatric building. I was sweating buckets and longed for the chill of an air conditioner. My 100th Anniversary t-shirt was plastered to my back and my name badge hung limply from its clasp. As I sprawled in a waiting room chair, a dirty blonde haired blue-eyed teenage boy sat next to me. He was solemn with scabbed knees and dirt stained shorts. He turned slightly towards me and commented that he was inside to cool off. He was too hot outside. I smiled and said me, too.
In a quiet voice, he told me that he was waiting for school supplies, but they kept running out. He didn’t want to stand in the long line in the heat. He was concerned that he wouldn’t get any supplies and said he really needed them for school.
What grade are you in? 6th grade. I’m supposed to be in 7th, but I failed. Oh? I’m sorry. That’s okay. It was my fault. I’m not stupid, I know that. They offered to put me in gifted classes. But I acted stupid. That’s why I failed. Bummer. Well, what’s your favorite subject? Math. I love math and I’m good at it. I like social studies and history, too. Oh, that’s so not me! I stink at math! He smirked and shyly glanced at me sideways. I love English, reading, and art. I’m not so good at reading. It’s hard for me. It was hard for my brother, too. He’s now an accountant using his math skills.
How old are you? 12 and 3/4’s. I laughed, you make sure you include that 3/4’s! He smiled and shuffled his feet. Do you think they’ll have a book bag for me like the other kids? I need one, but they ran out before. I don’t think they have any more book bags, hon. But they will have some supplies. I know they went to buy more to hand out. Oh. Okay. How long do you think that will be? My mom can’t wait in the heat much longer. I’m not sure, but I don’t think it’s too long. She should be back soon with them. He sighed deeply and slouched in his seat. My heart puckered at his despondent gaze.
I watched him get up and wander outside, presumably to find his mom. I sat lost in thought, aching for the boy. It always breaks my heart when children are in need, even for the simple things. All I want to do is scoop them up and protect them from the world. If I could do it for all 400 of them, I would. But maybe there was something I could do for at least this one who, unbeknownst to him, tied a string around my heart. I thought hard and long, unsure if I should do what I was thinking.
A bit later, as I was finally drying off from the sticky sweat, he walked back into the building where I sat, an older worn-out woman trailing behind him. She leaned on the counter at the entrance and started talking to the receptionist. I can’t stand anymore in this heat. I’m exhausted! It’s taking too long. It isn’t good for my health to be out there. Johnny, we’re going to have to leave. But I didn’t get any school supplies! Sorry, there’s nothing I can do about that. We can get them when we meet with Meg at the Salvation Army in October for Christmas gifts. But that’s October! School’s already started! What do I do before then? I won’t have anything. I’m really sorry, Johnny, but I just can’t stand out there any longer. We’ll go shopping at Goodwill or Salvation Army and see what we can find. He hung his head, his shoulders slumped in defeat. My heart cracked a little further.
I was at war with myself about how involved I should get with this boy and his family. Was it really my place to do anything? They’d get help from others. I don’t need to do this. Do I? I watched them shuffle out the door. That’s it. I couldn’t take it. I ran to the receptionist, frantically got a piece of paper and pen, praying they wouldn’t leave before I could get to them. I quickly walked out the door. They were gathering themselves at one of the tables, making sure they had all the kids they brought with them, and were getting ready to leave. Johnny hung back from the group, with them, but not.
I walked up to mom and gently tapped her on the shoulder. I pulled her aside and said that I wanted to help. I was really impressed with Johnny. He’s got something in him that I see…Can you write your names, address, and his age on this paper? I’m going to buy him all his school supplies, everything he needs, and drop it at your house. Really? You would do that for him? But why? Because he matters. Because there’s something in him that will be a shining star. Wow! Thank you! See Johnny? It pays when you actually behave! She bent over the table and wrote down the information. Johnny came around the table and stood quietly beside me.
Thank you. Thank you a lot. You’re very welcome, Johnny. But I want you to make me a promise. Can you do that? He nodded. I want you to promise that you’ll study hard and make it to 7th grade. Can you do that for me? Yes. I can do that. I promise. Don’t give up, Johnny. I can see how smart you are. You do matter and can be anything you want to be. I’ll be checking in on you! He quirked the side of his mouth, wanting to grin, but trying to be a “cool” 12 and 3/4’s year old. Thank you…Can I ask you a question? Sure! Can I have a 3-ring binder? My heart squeezed and I wanted to hug him. Of course, Johnny. I’ll get you a binder. I promise. Will I have the stuff before school starts? When does it start? September 5th. I will make sure you have it all before then. Don’t worry. He looked down at the ground and I saw a full smile slowly form on his lips.
Mom gave me the information and I tucked it in my pocket. She thanked me profusely, gathered the troops, and was off through the crowd to head home.
I may not be able to help the many, but if I can help just one, it can make a difference in this world.
Who are you going to help inspire today? What is your contribution to making a difference, no matter how big or small, in this world?