Archive for Thursday, November 30, 2006

First-grader provides heroic example

November 30, 2006

Even though Thanksgiving is past, I am still finding things to be thankful for like full moons, comfortable shoes, garage doors that go up and down with the press of a button, dogs that look at you with devotion in their eyes, and mild weather that has allowed us to put up Christmas decorations without freezing our tooshes.

While being thankful for those things as well as family and friends, I am also thankful for the everyday heroes who come to us each day through our own experience or via the newspaper or television. Some of those have appeared recently, and since I am such a sucker for every triumph over adversity story that comes along, I would like to share some of those with you as well as one closer to home.

Perhaps you read the article in the Lawrence Journal-World about the man who is called, "Secret Santa," a businessman who recently revealed his identity as Larry Stewart of Lee's Summit, Mo., who has "given away more than $1.3 million in cash over the past 26 years -- much of it in $100 bills handed out to strangers on the street during Christmastime."

And there was also the story of Jerry Smith of Newton who was born 67 years ago with club feet and who now cycles about the country and even into Canada and Ireland. This is truly extraordinary as "his feet are size three and more closely resemble hooves than the feet of a grown man" according to the article in the paper.

Both men give thanks to those who were kind to them when they were in need. When he was down and out, Stewart was given $20 from a stranger to buy a meal, and because of that gift vowed to be of help to others whenever he could. Smith, who lived at the Shriner's Hospital in South Carolina for most of the first 15 years of his life, cites the generosity of that organization for finally being able to walk.

Closer to home, we have our own triumph over adversity stories. Some of those I know and some I do not. There is one that stands out when I think of those who have turned lives that could have been sorrowful into lives of joy. That is the story of a very small boy who just turned 7 last week and is a first-grader at Nottingham Elementary School.

I understand that Christian makes his way around school quite well in his electric wheelchair, which he drives himself. Getting through some of the doors can be a problem and he occasionally knocks off the stops that protect the walls with his wheels, but Principal Jim Lauer, knowing it's Christian, only shrugs and says, "Oh well, we'll just leave the stops off."

And such is the attitude of anyone who knows Christian. His full name is Christian Long and he is the son of Terri and Ron Long and a brother to Tate and Reece.

As a family, their love has so encircled Christian that he is the bearer of joy to all who know him. Not able to speak very well, he still conveys his needs without a lot of speech and in the process can often tease, as well, with just a quick smile and a gesture.

The victim of a rare illness, Christian delights in the moment. This Halloween, his mother and I picked him up at a friend's home after the football game to find him on the floor surrounded by piles of candy a little delirious but quite happy.

Another image comes to mind when on a very hot day last summer, I stopped by his home to find him and his brother Tate soaking wet and squealing with laughter as they popped water balloons on each other.

His teacher's aide, Tracie Zabokrtsky, is close by each day at school and Rosina Houle, a paraprofessional for the first grade, is his partner in mischief. I understand from my sources, that you can always tell when the two of them are up to something because you can hear Christian laughing throughout the school.

His best friend and classmate, Catherine Grosdidier, has long been by his side and seems to be delighted to just be in his presence.

My daughter, who is a secretary at Nottingham, told me recently that Christian, after having a good day at school, was told he could choose a toy from the "treasure chest." After passing up toys that would amuse only him, he chose a package of stickers, which he gleefully handed out to his classmates throughout the day.

There are those who don't know Christian personally who might see only his limitations, and he may never hand out $20 bills to strangers or cycle across Kansas. But for those of us who are privileged to be called his friends, we know Christian as that rare individual who blesses our lives with his gift of enthusiasm and joy of living that keeps on giving throughout the year.

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