Making a Difference


Last night I was reading a book entitled Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them by John Ortberg.. In one of the chapters Ortberg relays a story that brought tears to my eyes.

While not written from an education perspective, I believe there are many parallels that can be drawn from his story in regards to the impact one person can have on another, particularly a child. I hope you enjoy!

The Greatest Gift

In a town called Paradise, California, lived a young man named John Gilbert. I like to think of him as a friend of mine, though we never met; I have traded letters with his family. When he was five years old, John was diagnosed with Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy. It is a genetic, progressive, and cruel disease. He was told it would eventually destroy every muscle and finally, in a space of ten more years or so, take his life.

John passed away a short while ago at the age of twenty-five. Toward the end of his life, he needed the help of machines even to breathe. He had only enough strength to move a computer mouse with his right hand. But he did that brilliantly. He sent me a manuscript of the story of his life that is one of the most moving pieces I have ever read.

Each year John lost something. One year it was the ability to run; he couldn’t play sports with other kids. Another year he could no longer walk straight, so all he could do was watch others play. Eventually he lost the ability to speak.

John knew something about the pain of exclusion. He wrote that junior high – not surprisingly – was perhaps the hardest era of his life. Junior high is difficult for almost everyone, I suppose.

But what John experienced was far worse than most of us could imagine. Certain groups of students used to humiliate him because of his condition and because he had to bring a trained dog to school with him. He attended on dance in junior high; it was a disaster, and he never went to another. A bully used to torture him in the lunch room, where there were no supervising teachers, until he was afraid to go to school. No one ever stood up for him; maybe because they were afraid for themselves. “What a silly species we are!” John writes. “We all need to feel accepted ourselves, but we constantly reject others.”

But there were other moments in John’s life. At one point he was named the representative for everyone with his condition in the state of California. He was flown to Sacramento and was ushered with his mother into the governor’s office for a private meeting. The governor took a large glass jar filled with candy and told John to dig in. John looked at his mother, who said it was okay to take one, but the governor said that he was the governor and John should do what he said. John stuffed his pockets.

That night the National Football League sponsored a fund-raising auction and dinner at which John was a guest. The player let him hold their huge Super Bowl rings, which almost extended to John’s wrist.

When the auction began, one item particularly caught John’s attention: a basketball signed by the players of the Sacramento Kings professional team. John got a little carried away, because when the ball was up for bids, he raised his hand. As soon as the hand went up, John’s mother flagged it down. In John’s words, “Astronauts never felt so many G’s as my wrist did that night.”

The bidding for the basketball rose to an astounding amount for an item that was not the most valuable treasure on the docket. Eventually, one man named a figure that shocked the room and that no one else could math.

The man went to the front and collected his prize. But instead of returning to his seat, the man walked across the room and placed it in the thin, small hands of the boy who had admired it so intently. The man placed the ball in hands that would never dribble it down a court, never throw it to a teammate on a fast break, never fire it from three-point range. But those hands would cherish it.

John writes, “IT took me a moment to realize what he had done. I remember hearing gasps all around the room, then thunderous applause, and seeing weepy eyes. To this day I’m amazed…Have you ever been given a gift you could never have gotten for yourself? Has anyone ever sacrificed a huge amount for you without getting anything in return except…the joy of giving?”

It was as simple as this: Somebody noticed. Somebody cared. Somebody acted. Somebody gave.

Have you bought a basketball for anybody lately?

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