At the school where my wife works they hosted an author night. It was Shane Burcaw. She knows I want to be an author, in the worst way, instead of just a blogger, in the worst way. I have already blogged in the worst ways imaginable, done that to death. So she asked if I would be interested. She warned me it was not the kind of author night I was accustomed to attending. But, I am an adult, why not?
Mr. Burcaw has Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a terrible disease that will eventually kill him. Not sooner or later, just sooner. Certainly sooner than he wants, for him there is no later. Before taking his life it will take everything else. It had already ravaged his body, but not his mind, not his pride, and certainly not his sense of humor, or his message of hope. After seeing him you just know it never will. SMA may win, but not without a fight.
We got there, and went into the room. Bright, crowded, lines of silver aluminum chairs with yellow seats and backs standing in curved rows, against the grey, blue background of the low, pile carpet. It looked like a teeth in a big, snarling, mocking grin. Man, do I hate going into schools.
A pleasant, smiling lady, wearing a light blue dress, and a subdued grey blazer rushed over, took my wife’s hand and said, breathlessly, excitedly, “we are so glad you came.” They knew each other, it was obvious, and they liked each other, it was plain to see. “Would you like some coffee?” she asked.
My wife doesn’t drink coffee, so she looked at me, and I said, “Are you crazy? I am stuck in a tiny room filled with teachers I need to keep a clear head just to get out of here alive.” But, it came out as “no, no thank you.” Words are funny that way.
“She was a teacher, it was a good thing you didn’t say anything stupid,” my wife said after the lady moved on.
Eventually, we found a place to sit. And we waited, in a small, bright, cheerful room, surrounded by teachers.
Brother, I could tell you, I have seen the worst side of teachers. But, they were in front of us, behind us, all around us. It seemed like the walls were getting closer, and I thought, briefly, of jumping out of the second floor window. If I timed it right and jumped far enough I could land on top of a minivan, and be past Dairy Queen before they could even get out their sharpened indestructible yardsticks. Unfortunately, my timing is lousy, and at my best I was never very athletic, and my best was years ago. I sat, sweating, hoping, waiting.
Shane Burcaw was worth every uncomfortable minute. He was amazing.
He made you laugh until you cried, and then he made you cry.
His trials had steeled him. His resolve was unbelievable. His sense of humor was earthy, and worldly at the same time. His message was hope. Life was hope, and as long as he had life he would have hope, he would have fun.
I wanted to see his face. It seemed so important to see the origins of such a powerful lesson, But, so many people were packed in the room my vision was blocked. Right, left, every time there was an opening somebody would shift just enough. I looked at the back of a lot of heads. I couldn't even really see the wheelchair. The wheelchair that he had been his all his life, and would be with him all his life.
A few glimpses, was all I could manage, though, It was not the face of a warrior, and it was not the voice of a warrior. But, it was the message of a warrior. Really, in a way, it was the face of a warrior, a hero who daily fought demons unimaginable to most of us. A paladin with the mischievous smile of anybody you ever knew who had learned the secret of being happy.
Through stories that seemed terrible, but were presented as amusing anecdotes the message rang clear. Sometimes life is messy, sometimes life is unfair, but if you try you will find something good.
Here was a man who had to work to do almost everything, except smile. That came naturally, and from the rare glimpses I could see was a beacon of friendliness, warmth, and genial, good natured happiness. A smile that would have been at home on a quarterback’s face, a smile that you would be happy to vote for, a smile that you would buy a beer.
There was a question and answer session afterward, but I didn’t go. What could you ask that hasn’t been asked a hundred, a thousand times before? His smile, the twinkle in his eyes, his bawdy sense of humor was all the answers I needed.
I left there that night changed, better, I hope. If I didn’t well, that is on me. It may have been the bravest thing I have ever seen. I raise my coffee cup and give you a toast.