April 29, 2017

The Magic of a Wish

What could possibly be more magical than a Ball?  The sequins on my royal blue gown catch the sparkle from the crystal chandeliers overhead, and it doesn’t seem real.  I feel like a common villager, trying to pass as a princess.  I can hardly believe that I am the same person who, just a few hours ago, was checking our son’s lab results, confirming the next appointment with his specialist, and measuring out his daily medications.  That was real life, messy and routine and sometimes exhausting.  But this opulent ballroom with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres and the small ensemble in the corner playing beautiful classical music?  This is magical!

I can’t help staring at our son all decked out in his black suit and tie – the first one he has ever worn in his life – and admiring how dashing he looks.  The blue sash across his shoulder, the one with the words Wish Kid on it, make him seem almost royal.  He and the other Wish Kids like him, are the reason everyone is here.  We have been invited to this Wish Ball, an annual charity gala to celebrate the wishes that have been granted to children with life-threatening medical conditions.  If the cost of admission is having a child with a life-threatening medical condition, it is a steep one indeed!

It was just a few months ago that our son had been granted his wish.  After searching the depths of his imagination, and considering all the wondrous possibilities, he had decided that the one thing he wanted to do more than anything else in all the world was to ride in a helicopter.  He had seen the Life Flight helicopter take off and land at the hospital where he has spent so much of his childhood, and apparently, it had so fascinated him, that he wanted to experience it for himself.

I must admit that I was a little disappointed at his choice.  After all, how often does a child have such an amazing opportunity to make a wish?  This was his big chance!  Why couldn’t he have chosen a cruise to an exotic destination?  Or a visit to a magical kingdom?  Or even, as he had talked about on numerous occasions, a mission trip to serve those less fortunate than himself? (1)

A helicopter ride, unbeknownst to me, can indeed become a very big deal.  Especially when the helicopter in question belongs to a television station.  The small wish became a big news story, at least locally, accumulating thousands of “likes” on social media.  On Wish Day, as the helicopter flew over the news stations, hundreds of well-wishers were standing outside, waving and clapping and cheering for this brave boy who had captured their hearts! (2)

For a child who has experiences so many challenges and disappointments, the wish itself is, of course, a dream come true.  It’s a relief from the constant reminders of the disease.  It’s a spark of hope.  It’s a rare, beautiful moment of laughter and joy that can be captured and held in the heart forever.  Or, as in the words of my son, This is the best day ever!

What I did not expect, what I could not have anticipated, was the impact that this one small wish would have on so many people at the news station.  The camera guy who interviewed us and spent time filming our son, has since become so much more.  He texts often to see how we are doing or to send a note of encouragement when he knows we have medical appointments.  Just last week he invited his new young friend to spend the day with him at work at the news station.  What started out as a news story has turned into a lifelong friendship.

His co-worker, an editor at the station, has also been unexpectedly impacted.  Her job is so often filled with the worst of the worst – crime and natural disasters and all kinds of bad news.  Every day it’s the terrible, heart-breaking events that make the headlines.  So when she was asked to help coordinate our son’s wish, she jumped at the chance.  (Actually, what she said, in true Southern style, was, H--- yeah!)  It became, not a work project but a heart project.   What had originally been intended to bring joy to a sick child, turned out to be the very thing that brought joy to the person planning it!

And you know, there’s one in every crowd, right?  The one person at work who is sort of grumpy and known around the office as a curmudgeon.  A good ol’ boy who has worked there for at least a century, who takes life pretty seriously and doesn’t smile much.  Well, this guy didn’t stand a chance against our son!  Of all the people involved in making this child’s wish come true, this man was, quite unwittingly, the most instrumental.  After spending a considerable amount of time with this irresistibly charming 8-year old boy, hearing his story, seeing first hand his unquenchable optimism, this man’s heart, as his co-workers say, grew three sizes that day.

And here we are now, several months later, celebrating a wish that has been memorable in so many wonderful ways.  I gaze around the ballroom at the other guests who have also been invited.  I am humbled to be counted among them.

There are the wealthy philanthropists and corporate sponsors who open wide their hands.  Who give with abandon.  The average cost of granting each child’s wish is $7,500 – an astronomical amount of money, especially for families who may be wondering how they are going to pay for their child’s medical bills!  These children’s dreams would be impossible to fulfill without the abundant generosity of these men and women.

There are the passionate volunteers who open wide their schedules.  Who serve with abandon.  They spend time with the children, getting to know them, listening to their most heartfelt dreams.  And then they work tirelessly behind the scenes, raising funds, securing tickets, making reservations, getting waivers signed, coordinating countless details.  It is their joy to bring wishes to life in a way that exceeds every expectation!

There are the kindhearted business owners who unselfishly donate their goods and services.  The limousine driver who transports the kids and their families to the destination of their dreams (or at least to the airport).  The restaurant owner who provides meals for the families on Wish Day.  The toy store owner who donates hundreds of dollars’ worth of toys, games, and remote-control helicopters (of course), rivaling the most extravagant birthday party.  The possibilities of giving are limited only by their imagination! (3)

There are the Wish Moms, mothers who, like me, love a child who is sick.  Who have learned, reluctantly at first, and then passionately, the vocabulary of diagnoses and treatment options.  Who have walked the long sterile corridors of the hospital, praying and crying.  Getting weary and discouraged, maybe, but never for one second giving up hope. 

Imagine my surprise to find out that I am a member of a sisterhood that, until a few minutes ago, I didn’t even know existed!  Oh, how their strength and confidence inspire me!  One dauntless Wish Mom speaks openly and honestly, saying, Every day my daughter is sick.  Every day she is in pain. Some day this disease will kill her.  But one thing I can say today, with absolutely certainty: She lived.  I love that!  Perhaps the goal, after all, is not to live long, but to live well!

The most beautiful people in the room, of course, are the Wish Kids themselves.  They are the real heroes.  Despite their young age, they have experienced more in their short lives than many of us will face in our entire lifetime!  They are quite possibly the bravest kids on the planet!  Somehow they find the strength to face each shocking diagnosis, each painful medical procedure, each heartbreaking disappointment with courage, resilience and unwavering resolve. 

And dare I say wisdom?  Oh, the wisdom these kids have, well beyond their years!  Is it because they have spent their childhood surrounded by adults?  One young man describes what it is like to live with a life-threatening illness.  Every day, he explains, is a challenge, for sure, but it’s just an obstacle, and it will not define me.   Hope, courage and wisdom all wrapped up in those words.

Being invited to a Ball is like being in a fairy tale.  Pressed tuxedos and shimmering gowns, tables spread with delicious food and waiters carrying fluted glasses, lively conversations and musical laughter.  Surprisingly, however, there is something even more magical than all of this.

Experiencing our children’s excitement as their deepest dreams become a reality.  Watching the heart of a curmudgeon become soft.  Connecting with valiant families who are on similar journeys.  Meeting kind-hearted, generous people.  Discovering, perhaps for the first time, that we are not alone.  That even on our darkest, loneliest days, there are many people in our community who are cheering us on.

That is the magic of a wish.

1.    What it’s like when your child makes a wish.  http://psalm1139mama.blogspot.com/2016/02/making-wishes.html

2.  The sight of all those people cheering made me cry!  http://www.wral.com/news/local/video/16470022/

3.    To learn more about how you can make a difference, visit wish.org

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