I still say there is no theft worse than the theft of a childhood. I say that empty ball fields and playgrounds are a travesty. I say the act of playing or swinging on swing sets is a birthright.
I say that every kid must get dirty. This is essential. Kids should have to know what it means to scream as loud as they possibly can and run around as wild as they can be. Games are important. Playing is important. Imagination is just as important to the mind as air is to the lungs or food is to the belly. Nothing should ever get in the way of this.
I worked a few charity events to raise money for pediatric cancer. This was years ago. I did pretty well too. I raised a good sum of money, enough to be proud of, and stand out as one of the leaders.
One of the perks of my day job is I am interactive with different trades and construction sites. In all honesty, I have never taken a kickback. I have never pulled an underhanded trick but when it came to the kids, I shook everyone down without any shame whatsoever.
The highlight of the events was a bunch of us shaved our heads as a sign of solidarity. I did this for a few years.
I raised more money than anyone in my event and I took this as serious as cancer itself.
When it was my turn to shave my head on the day of the event, I let one of the kids that lost their hair shave my head. I let a boy that lost his 2 year-old brother shave my head. As I saw it, this was for them. Not me.
There was a family in need of help. They reached out to me because of my involvement with an organization. Their child had a rare cancer and needed support.
When I reached out for help to an organization I worked so hard to support, unless I was interested in raising more money, no one returned my phone calls. The rest of the details are even more heartbreaking, which is why I will move on from here.
More than a year after this split from the events, I met a girl named Liv. She was only 13 when she came down with Lymphoma.
Instead of the usual routine through a foundation, I decided to be directly helpful to the family. I showed up at the hospital when Liv had her treatments. I did my best to make everyone laugh. I gave everything I had and traded all my energy.
I was proud to be part of this. I was more proud of this than anything else in my life. I was especially proud to be there when Liv underwent her final treatment.
I’m not sure if you have ever been to Sloan Kettering. I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen the playroom they have for the kids with cancer. They have costumes for them and toys and anything a kid could want.
I made a boy smile during my last visit. He was as precious as could be. He was bald. All of his hair had fallen out because of the chemo. I made him laugh, which, I’m not sure what happened next. I’m not sure what came over me but the moments that followed will last in my memory for the rest of my life.
I laughed and I played. I joked with as many children as I could. I screamed and I carried on. I interacted with as many as I could and I made the parents smile.
Then I saw a little boy. He was in a wheelchair and too sick to enjoy. If I could have, I swear, I would have traded places just so he could have a minute of time to laugh with the others.
I did not wince when I saw the boy. I did not shy away or stop. I did not look at him as if I were afraid of him or as if “He” was the cancer.
Instead, I gave him everything I had, just to see a brief intervention of joy, just for a second, even if it were only a glimpse.
I was actually on the clock at the time. My day job agreed to let me out so I could be part of this. And as kind as this was, I still had to make it back within a reasonable time period.
After all this was over, after all the running around and all the cheer, I stepped in the elevator to go back to work. And I wept as hard as I played as soon as the doors closed.
A nurse asked me if I was okay. I told her what happened. She explained that this was good. She said what I did was a good thing.
I explained to the nurse that I learned how absolutely small I am in a very big world.
I was broken up to the point that a short while after, I saw a Priest on the street. Keep in mind, although I believe myself to be mild-mannered and easily approachable; I still live in New York. This is still New York City, which means that I, as a heavily tattooed man and physically grabbing a priest is not always the sanest look.
I wouldn’t let the Priest go. I made him pray for them all. I was crying and seething through my teeth. I growled at him.
I mean I literally growled, “Do it now!”
After the prayer, it was noted that I was obviously upset. The Priest asked me if one of those children belonged to me.
I asked him, “Do they have to be?”
I can only describe what I felt at the moment as pain. This was true pain and with the heaviest of hearts, I felt a sadness that was unlike ever before.
Whenever I see empty playgrounds or vacant ball fields, I think about the children I met that lost everything. I think about the kids that wished they could have went outside and feel the wind on their face.
When I hear of a child missing their childhood, I find a pain within myself. This is unlike any other pain.
I take this pain because what other choice do I have? I take this and I endure. And whenever possible, if I find an opportunity, I run and I shout and I scream with whomever is out there and needs someone to run or play or shout and scream with.
There was a family that was being bullied by a neighbor. Turns out their child had special needs. In a cowardly act of cruelty, a neighbor left a note in the mailbox to tell the family to keep their kid quiet. I sent a message to the family. I told them my name. I explained that I am easily found. I told them that I love to play, run around, scream and shout and that I am available whenever they need. I added that I have a few friends that I could bring as well. All of them are very large and none of them like bullies or cowardly neighbors.
Right now we are living during the Covid times. I see empty playgrounds. I hear about cancellations of different sporting events and graduations.
I hate this.
I hate seeing a child miss anything. I’m sure you do too.
Let’s hope we get through this safely.
Maybe we can all get together afterwards for a game of Kick The Can.
Or how about Red Light, Green Light?
Remember that one?
Red light, Green light, 1,2,3