As a mother, I often find it difficult to fully express all of the dreams, and hopes, and desires I have for my little boy. Like many mothers, I pray that when he goes out into the world each day, he will be met with kindness. That peers will not succeed in breaking him down or making him lose sight of the inherent, and sacred VALUE that he possesses SIMPLY because he exists.
Another hope (one that is even stronger and more important to me than the hope of Kort’s protection) is the hope that he will never use his influence to harm or devalue someone else. My Grandpa Headlee (who I miss very much) left behind one of the greatest gifts any child could hope to receive from their Grandfather. He left a book.
Let me explain. He was amazing. (for starters) Now, I understand (and hope) that MOST people feel this way about their grandfathers (and rightly so.) I am no exception. He converted to the church quite a bit later in life, and once he did, he was on fire. He shared the gospel with anyone who would listen. He lived a life of unwavering integrity. He raised a family of 9 children with love and great wisdom. He was a prominent business man who made millions of dollars (and even more friends than that) along the way. But these aren’t my reasons for feeling that he was an incredible human being. (Okay, they are SOME of them…)
There were also the simple grandpa things he did as well, like hugging me so tightly that I couldn’t doubt his love for me if I tried, and letting me sit on his lap for hours to watch political news channels with the “big boys”, and also handing out FULL PACKS (did you hear me correctly? I said FULL PACKS) of Wrigley’s gum to all of his grandchildren. Shall I repeat that again? We each got our OWN PACK, and we could do whatever we wanted with it! It was somewhat miraculous, really. Many of my cousins carefully rationed their packs. Ripping each precious piece in half and chewing that half for a solid three hours before trading up for a fresh piece, or even waiting until the next day to enjoy another chunk of gooey goodness. I myself personally, liked to eat all five sticks at once and revel in the overwhelming flavor and syrupy goo oozing down my throat. (Oh the simple delights of childhood.) I never worried about running out of gum. I had seen grandpa’s gum stash…and believe you me… there was ALWAYS more, and I definitely never doubted my ability to talk him into pack, after pack, after pack…we were tight like that. (It seems like I have been talking about gum a lot lately…)
It wasn’t until my Grandfather passed away in November of 2006, that I came to a full realization of the sacred, secret footprints he had ever so quietly left all over his world. Letters poured in from all over the country, and do you know what they said? They said, “We don’t know if you knew this, but when our child needed a life-saving organ transplant and we had no way to pay, Richard Headlee made it possible …” OR “Our lives were forever changed the day that Richard Headlee came into our lives…” Letter after letter, account after personal account, I learned more and more about the man whom I had simply called grandpa. The best part is, he had done it secretly. We never knew THE HALF of it, and neither did the people he had helped. The only people who knew of his involvement in their recoveries or the payment of their medical bills, were the people who had done a considerable amount of sleuthing and meticulously traced the donations back to grandpa. Now, as for the book he left us, well, that was just the icing on the cake.
Shortly after grandpa’s death, I sat alone in my living room in the middle of the night and read through his book again. It consists of a collection of inspirational poems and quotes. Some were written by my grandfather himself, (and those, I’ll admit, are some of the most precious) others were simply poems that inspired him, and summed up the standards that he seemed to use to govern his life. I completely broke down as I read each page and came to the clear realization that these words were a road map. They were his pathway to a life of love, success, joy, service, and triumph over death, and he left it for ME so that I could have the best life possible for me. I had decided to share my favorite quotes and poems throughout the month of November (the month of his passing) to honor his life, and I’m still going to do that, but my mom sent me an email this morning that stirred up feelings within me that need expression NOW. Now, some of you may have heard this, (and I am SOOOO not one to post and forward and email every sappy story that gets forwarded to my email account) but I felt that this particular story was worth sharing, and it’s definitely worth reading again even if you have heard it. The Subject line in the email that mom sent was: “A story that reminds me of grandpa’s stories!”
At a fundraising dinner for a school that serves children with learning disabilities, the father of one of the students delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended. After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he offered a question:
'When not interfered with by outside influences, everything nature does, is done with perfection. Yet my son, Shay, cannot learn things as other children do. He cannot understand things as other children do.
Where is the natural order of things in my son?'
The audience was stilled by the query.
The father continued. I believe that when a child like Shay, who was mentally and physically disabled comes into the world, an opportunity to realize true human nature presents itself, and it comes in the way other people treat that child.'
Then he told the following story:
Shay and I had walked past a park where some boys Shay knew were playing baseball. Shay asked, 'Do you think they'll let me play?' I knew that most of the boys would not want someone like Shay on their team, but as a father I also understood that if my son were allowed to play, it would give him a much-needed sense of belonging and some confidence to be accepted by others in spite of his handicaps.
I approached one of the boys on the field and asked (not expecting much) if Shay could play. The boy looked around for guidance and said, 'We're losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we'll try to put him in to bat in the ninth inning.' Shay struggled over to the team's bench and, with a broad smile, put on a team shirt. I watched with a small tear in my eye and warmth in my heart. The boys saw my joy at my son being accepted.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shay's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three.
In the top of the ninth inning, Shay put on a glove and played in the right field. Even though no hits came his way, he was obviously ecstatic just to be in the game and on the field, grinning from ear to ear as I waved to him from the stands.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shay's team scored again.
Now, with two outs and the bases loaded, the potential winning run was on base and Shay was scheduled to be next at bat.
At this juncture, do they let Shay bat and give away their chance to win the game?
Surprisingly, Shay was given the bat. Everyone knew that a hit was all but impossible because Shay didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, much less connect with the ball.
However, as Shay stepped up to the plate, the pitcher, recognizing that the other team was putting winning aside for this moment in Shay's life, moved in a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shay could at least make contact...
The first pitch came and Shay swung clumsily and missed.
The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly towards Shay.
As the pitch came in, Shay swung at the ball and hit a slow ground ball right back to the pitcher.
The game would now be over.
The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could have easily thrown the ball to the first baseman.
Shay would have been out and that would have been the end of the game. Instead, the pitcher threw the ball right over the first baseman's head, out of reach of all team mates.
Everyone from the stands and both teams started yelling, 'Shay, run to first!
Run to first!'
Never in his life had Shay ever run that far, but he made it to first base.
He scampered down the baseline, wide-eyed and startled.
Everyone yelled, 'Run to second, run to second!'
Catching his breath, Shay awkwardly ran towards second, gleaming and struggling to make it to the base.
By the time Shay rounded towards second base, the right fielder had the ball. the smallest guy on their team who now had his first chance to be the hero for his team.
He could have thrown the ball to the second-baseman for the tag, but he understood the pitcher's intentions so he, too, intentionally threw the ball high and far over the third-baseman' s head.
Shay ran toward third base deliriously as the runners ahead of him circled the bases toward home.
All were screaming, 'Shay, Shay, Shay, all the Way Shay'
Shay reached third base because the opposing shortstop ran to help him by turning him in the direction of third base, and shouted, 'Run to third! Shay, run to third!'
As Shay rounded third, the boys from both teams, and the spectators, were on their feet screaming, 'Shay, run home! Run home!'
Shay ran to home, stepped on the plate, and was cheered as the hero who hit the grand slam and won the game for his team.
'That day', said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, 'the boys from both teams helped bring a piece of true love and humanity into this world'.
Shay didn't make it to another summer… He died that winter, having never forgotten being the hero and making me so happy, and coming home and seeing his Mother tearfully embrace her little hero of the day!”
I love this story. My greatest hope (and my greatest responsibility) is to raise a son whose love knows no bounds, for it is not in the saying, or the wishing, or the thinking of things that great things come to pass, it is in the doing. I hope, more than anything else, that Kortland will be a doer. The poem from grandpa’s book that most reminds me of this story, and the poem that could change the world if we’d all rightly apply it, is called “Builders”…and I love it.
I saw them tearing a building down,
A gang of men in a busy town.
With a yo heave ho and a lusty yell,
They swung a beam, and the sidewall fell.
I asked the foreman if these men were as skilled
As those he would hire if he were to build.
He laughed and said, “Oh no indeed,
Common labor is all I need,
For they can wreck in a day or two,
What builders have taken years to do.”
So I asked myself as I went my way,
Which of these roles am I to play?
Am I the builder who works with care,
Measuring life by the rule and square;
Or am I the wrecker who walks the town
Content in the role of tearing down?