Friday, December 14, 2007

When You Least Expect It

December 14, 2007

Thank you for your patience while I finished grading all my final exams and dealt with the detritus the end of the semester inevitably delivers to my doorstep.

Thank you even more for sharing your Christmas memories, stories, and traditions. If you haven't made time, please add yours to the ones I already have. If you don't want to go into a long explanation, just leave me a comment, naming your favorite holiday food, hymn, or television special.

Thank you the most for growing Erin's Giving Tree to 304 ornaments. I can't tell you how proud it makes me, that after all of these years of watching Erin on this journey, you still have heart enough to support the research cause that matters so much to us.

I had to pause today and do some thinking. Typically, I am quick to criticize some aspects of college life and choices large universities, including my employer Texas A&M, make that just don't seem very educational. I have often spoken against our practice of stuffing 300, 400, even 500 students in an auditorium--lecturing to them with power point slides and asking them to bubble in scantrons to see if they remember anything. The way I see it, bubbling in isn't a skill that serves you that well in life after college.

Today, however, rather than railing about the stupidity of enormous classes, I want to tell you about the powerful impact they can have. I suspect, when you are sitting in a room with 549 other students who don't know you and don't care about you, it would be easy to feel disconnected and isolated. The Management 209 and Management 211 students, with the encouragement of their professor, decided they didn't want to feel this way. They made an mind-numbing effort to help children in Child Protective Services have a great Christmas by filling their Christmas wish lists. Using lists filled out by the children themselves, these students bought, wrapped, and delivered five presents each to 98 children in the area. . . and these were not just socks and toothbrushes. My office suite was gift-wrap central, and I saw at least twenty bikes, i-pods, playstations, and loads of fun (and specially requested) stuff. If you thought you had a lot of shopping to do, consider a wish list with 492 gifts. Here is a link to last year's gift drive:

The cool part is that this isn't a one off activity. It actually follows the classes' Thanksgiving food drive that started in October and ran through last month with students collecting canned goods and non-perishables for the local Food Bank. Those students also have a list-serve of students who send cards and notes of encouragement to people who have special needs. Sometimes, this list-serve gets so interested in the person with the special need they do even more. Besides wanting to warm your heart (and eat a little crow for being so critical of large classes), I can make even more of a connection.

Five years ago one of the people who needed something special was Erin. She was on the eighth floor of Texas Children's Hospital in the midst of her first of two stem cell transplants. This is how she looked on December 4, before she started her conditioning chemo. In a few days she looked much frailer, paler, and sicker.

A couple of weeks later two sisters,
Kalli and Meagan, arrived, fresh from finals laden with stuffed animals and special gifts that their peers at A&M and Blinn had taken the time to buy for Erin. A visit from Santa hadn't cheered her much, Tara Lipinski was okay, but not enough to get out of bed for, the singing FBI agents struck my funny bone and perked me right up, but Erin didn't even budge. Kalli and Maegan with an armload of stuffed animals? That was a different matter to that five year old. She made a quick animal pyramid (note Rosie on the left joining in with her holiday outfit on), and didn't even leave enough room for herself in bed.

I guess we didn't expect it. Just like I don't expect much good to come from large, auditorium classes. Except, sometimes great things happen when we don't expect them.

I don't know why I have to keep learning this lesson. I visit websites everyday, written by parents with sick children. Neil, spends the small slice of free time he has keeping up with emerging research that may have possibilities for neuroblastoma kids. Pat, has rallied his small community to raise thousands of dollars for research, Band of Parents just baked and sold 96,000 cookies to raise money for research. At the same time, Mara and Becky are shaping their words and images through their daughters' websites to reveal the true love and caring that is possible, even in the face of a horrible disease like neuroblastoma.

This holiday season, cherish your loved ones and pay attention. Something life changing could happen when you least expect it. You might even be the one who changes someone else's life.

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