This one comes without apology and, to be clear, I have had the great pleasure of working with and being in the presence of the greatest people in the world. To them, what I am about to say will make sense.
There are times when my emotions are high and times before I speak or do a presentation that I can feel the burning inside of me. I can feel a rage that’s about to burst and sometimes, I will express this in a way as if to say the crowd is in trouble, which means I am going to explode. On a few occasions, there were speakers before me who either misspoke or misused information or, for whatever the reason, might have been their presentation or something about their demeanor either hurt or offended me. Sometimes, like now, my emotions are high before my speaking engagements to which I would then turn to the person closest to me and say, “They’re dead!”
I will look to my trusted, most closest people and they can see it in my eyes.
They know where this comes from which is not a bad place at all. No, quite the opposite. This is me trying to right the wrongs of our crazy thought patterns that cause us to work against each other.
So, with this being explained, I will continue and explain that the following will need to connect with your imagination.
Again, there will be no apologies for the emotions to come.
So, here we go.
Many of us question why things happen.
We question, as if to ask, why does anything happen? Or why do bad things happen?
Yet, life happens to all of us, every day, until the very last one.
Then again, of course, there are times when it seems as if life is happening to us. What I mean is there are times when we wonder if life is held upon the resources of luck or if, perchance, life is a matter of being born into the lucky gene pool of millionaire or billionaire – as if to them, life is always sweet and there is no pain or the subtle concerns about what’s for lunch because the menu is plentiful.
I can say that in my experience, I have met with people who were literally penniless and those whose bank accounts are full yet misery does not pay attention to wealth or finances.
Only we do.
I have seen people with nothing in their pockets and, somehow, they exude a happiness that is truly wealthy.
At the same time, I have met with people who are financially wealthy yet they seem so poor – or, is it just unhappy?
I see this and I think to myself about the so-called differences between the classes. I see this and consider how some in the upper class can show no class at all.
I can say that I have worked hard and come up short. I can say that I have been in rooms with millionaires and wondered if my life would be any better if I were them.
I can say that I have sat in humble places where people are looking to find housing and, for now, all of their belongings fit in a bag stored away in a locked closet at a homeless shelter.
I can say that I have worked on different charity events trying hard to raise money for children with pediatric cancers.
I used to love these events.
We created a nice little fundraiser which went as far as several of us shaving our heads to match the look of the children who lost their hair due to chemotherapy.
In fact, one of the organizers and myself decided to allow our guest of honor the opportunity to shave our head – and so this is how it went; a young boy with a buzzer in hand, a huge smile and me getting my head buzzed by a child who has no business understanding what the word Neuroblastoma means.
I say this because wealth is put to the side when the reality of life comes into play.
Surely, justice and healthcare is matched by what we can afford; however, there are times when money ceases to matter and there are times when money cannot cure cancer or overcome science or chemistry.
I would like to take you with me to a special place.
I was only here a few times and please, let’s be mindful for a second. Let’s not pretend that money can buy anything. Let’s stop the segregations for the moment and not make this something between race, color, identity or gender. I am a person who is sensitive to this; however, for this visit, let’s put aside who you pray to or who you voted for because when it comes down to it – cancer does not care who you voted for and neither does your genetic makeup.
That’s me, about to walk into the elevator in a hospital.
I’m sorry and please forgive me when I say this but in the grand scheme of it all; in life’s vastness of literally billions of people; we are all so impossibly small and weak in comparison to the weight and size of fate and life. We are small when compared to the terms of the limited and finite structures of our lifetime.
Our years are limited by a number and, after that, we are only memory.
I am riding up in the elevator, somewhat nervous and anxious. I am on my way to meet a young girl at the age of 13 who was diagnosed with stage four Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
I was here for her first treatment and as fate would have it, that’s me, riding up in the elevator and about to walk onto the floor of the pediatric wing.
The reason for my visit is because I was invited to be there for her last treatment. That’s right, I said last treatment because this young girl; this amazing warrior who never asked for this attention nor did she ask to be sick; she was about to pull off the unthinkable which is to be cancer free.
This had nothing to do with the wealth of her parents or her family’s finances. Sure, she had good doctors. One could say she had the best and yes, she survived. However, this family was far from the wealthiest on the floor yet other families with more money did not succeed as well as theirs.
But wait, there’s more.
I walked off onto the floor and passed by the playroom where literally any toy a child could think of could be found.
Do you want to play checkers? We can do that.
How about chess? Sure, not a problem.
Do you want to dress up like a Disney character?
Let’s do it.
There was a room where kids could play, shout and jump around. In this room, there was a young child in a wheelchair, hair all gone, skin so pale that the child almost looked bluish to me. Sincerely, I would have bled; I would have taken pain, lost years from my life if only for one minute; I could have changed the vacant expression from this child’s face.
I would have done everything.
I don’t think cancer chose to look at his family’s credit score before entering into their life, nor do I believe that race was a consideration. I highly doubt cancer chose this family through a bias of education nor was there a positional or bias considered when this child was diagnosed with a life-ending disease.
Meanwhile, there was a celebration going on.
There was a girl who, for some reason, fate decided to point its finger in her direction.
She made it and survived what countless others fell to.
I don’t know why . . .
I waited for her chemo to begin and when it did, I decided to go out into the playroom. The room was right outside of the corridor. I saw a brother playing with his little brother. This is what sparked the fire.
They both looked at me and smiled.
So, I smiled back.
They laughed. And me, I laughed back.
Next . . .
it was time to shake the room!
I decided to erupt and literally become the biggest child that anyone had ever known.
I ran around and I played with everyone. I jumped and I carried on and I laughed and I cheered.
I ran around and gave everything that I had – but over there, in the corner.
Can you see?
That child was sitting in that wheelchair. Not engaging. Not looking. Not focusing.
So, I played more. What else could I do?
I played harder.
Here I am, a grown man, tattoos from the bottom of my neck to my waist. I am not the biggest guy but I am not small either.
I have been told that I have a presence, which I fail to see, but still – if you ask me, I think I look like a big softie.
There I am, running around like a child and thinking to myself – please look up kid.
Just once. Just see this.
Don’t let the sickness take it away, kid. See this!
I have met evil people in this world. I can say with regret, that I have been to places where terrible things lurked and where violence took place.
I have seen the ugliest sights my streets have had to offer yet nothing has ever been as powerful to me as this; a child sitting in a room so bright and playful yet the ominous face of darkness was abound and death, well – I’m sure that death was there, just waiting to do its trick.
I couldn’t do anything but fight back. I could swing. I could shoot but there is no muscle nor mass to put a bullet through.
No, this is something untouchable and invisible yet its strength is unlike anything we will see in our lifetime.
I kept thinking to myself:
Just look up, kid.
Look at me (and in my heart) you are more deserving than me or anyone.
Just look up.
Mind you, I do not say this to put myself down. However, I am a person with a lot of mistakes.
This child has never made any of those mistakes because this child did not live long enough to stay up past his bedtime, let alone, be dishonest or say a hurtful thing.
“Just look up, kid.”
“Don’t let it take you away.”
I would have done anything for this to happen.
It wasn’t much longer that I was invited back into the room to celebrate the end of my young friend’s chemo session.
With that being said, I had to get back to work because fortunately, my boss was understanding about what I do and he was kind enough to let me do my thing.
I played a little bit more.
See me, over there?
I ran around for another five or maybe ten minutes.
I was about to leave when it happened.
The kid . . .
The kid in the wheelchair looked up at me.
The smile was faint but it was in there
The Mom was there, standing behind the child. Sad. Lost.
The Mom was hurting and who could blame her. .
I walked up and said, “My name is Ben Kimmel. I am very easy to find. If there is anything I can do or if there is a way that I can be helpful, please let me know.”
I am standing by the elevator waiting to go down.
Some of the nurses are passing and smiling at me.
They thought I was funny.
Some people on the floor are saying thanks.
“That was a good thing,” said the nurse who was about to enter the elevator with me.
As soon as the doors closed, I belted out into tears because – well, do you want to know why?
Because fuck you, that’s why.
Why would a kid have to go through this?
Why does this happen?
With all of my rage WHY?
I’m sorry, I didn’t see any critical race theories in this room.
I didn’t see any need for further segregation. No more “othering” or us against them.
No them or they. There was only life and the threat of loss.
That’s all there was in this room.
No, what I saw was children of all types and from all backgrounds and thus, I saw life and death. I saw proof that fate does not consider our race or culture- even if we do, cancer does not care who we pray to or who we voted for in recent elections.
I looked at the nurse and started crying.
“It’s okay,” she said.
“No.” I told her.
“It’s not okay at all.”
I remember getting in the cab and all I could see was the child’s face. All my mind would consider was the look on that child’s face and the hope that somehow, this was not the end.
As luck would have it, my return to work was quick enough that I was not gone for too long.
Unfortunately, there was a young priest walking by a building at the same time when I exited the cab. And yes, I was still crying. Yes, I was highly emotional and no, I’m quite sure the priest did not expect someone like me to grab him, somewhat pick him up and escort him against a building and say, “You pray!”
(Weird things happen in New York City all the time, but I’d wager this was a new one for the priest.)
I had tears pouring out from my eyes and through growling teeth, I demand “You pray right now!”
I might have repeated this and I might have threatened that the prayer be good enough.
But emotions were high at the time and there was a tiny glimpse of an old self coming through the surface.
I told the priest what happened (after scaring him, I believed that I at least owed him that much) and then he prayed there in front of me.
We talked for a couple of minutes and then we went our separate ways.
I don’t know what kind of answer this prayer received but I know where my hopes were; however, I also know what the statistics are too.
I don’t do fundraising anymore.
But I will never forget this lesson on the value of life.
Oh, and by the way, my biggest donors were from people with humble means.
As for the cheapest donation ever given to me during my time as a fundraiser, this was from an exceptionally wealthy man who knew me well. He promised that I should see him when I started to collect.
He gave me ten bucks and said, “Don’t worry . . . you don’t have to give me a receipt.”
I will never be impressed with money or positions again.
Show me a roomful of kids though – show me the young warriors who are battling for their lives.
Show me this and I will show you who impresses me.
Their smiles. Their purity.
And their right to survive.
Show me this and I will be impressed