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The Courage to Give
Inspiring Stories of People Who Triumphed Over Tragedy to Make a Difference in the World
By JACKIE WALDMAN, JANIS LEIBS DWORKIS
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2000 Jackie Waldman
All rights reserved.
Be Happy, Be Useful
There was a time in my life when I was in so much physical and emotional pain that I just didn't think I could go on. I spent every day and every night thinking about my pain and how useless my life had become.
Then one morning, I found a little boy in a Dumpster. And the minute I saw him, I realized that there were children whose pain was much greater than my own. God led me to find that child, and to find all the children I've worked with since that day. In working to help those children, my own pain has been diminished. And my life has become a tremendous joy._____________________
Until 1986, I was "Super Mom." I was a single mother of five children—my husband left us when my youngest was two years old—and I worked very hard to do everything I could for them. My three boys were in high school playing football that year, and my two girls were on the drill team. Life wasn't easy, but my children were doing well, and I was paying the bills. So I considered myself lucky.
I worked the night shift in a factory during those years. I got off work at 7 A.M., and I'd try to get home as fast as I could to see the kids as they were leaving for school. I was so tired that I usually left work with my eyes half-closed. I would undo my bra and take off my shoes in the car. After I said goodbye to the kids, I would nap until three o'clock.
After school, I would pick up the kids, make dinner, feed everyone, and make sure they did their homework. And then I went back to work at 11 P.M.
One day, all that fatigue caught up with me—and my life changed forever. I stood up on a stool at work to change a part in one of the huge machines. But my foot slipped, the stool gave way, and I fell right into the machine. I felt a shooting pain from my groin up to my eyes. Then everything just went black. When I woke up, I couldn't put my legs together. Blood was everywhere. I was taken to the hospital in an ambulance.
The doctors told me I had a separated pelvis and two slipped discs. All I knew was that I was in such horrible pain—suffering that I don't wish on anybody. I had surgery that was supposed to help. But it didn't seem to do much good. I was in constant, terrible agony.
After the accident, I tried to go back to work because we needed the money so badly, but the pain was too severe. I was supposed to get money from the factory's insurance company, but that was tied up for a long time. We almost lost our apartment and our car. My children wanted to drop out of school and go to work to pay rent. But I said no. I had worked so hard to take care of them, and they were all doing so well. I would not let them drop out of school to do the job I was supposed to be doing.
Before too long, I became very depressed. I had no money. I was in constant pain. I was a mother who couldn't even take care of her children any longer. I felt like I was good for nothing.
I started having thoughts of suicide.
Those thoughts scared me, because I knew my children still needed me. So I called a social service agency in Carrollton, Texas, where I lived, and I spoke to a wonderful lady named Anna. She counseled me, and the agency paid our rent and gave us groceries.
Anna was a tremendous help to me and to my whole family. But my pain just didn't seem to get better. One day, when the kids were at school, I sat in my bedroom with the door closed and looked at a bottle of my pain pills.
"What if I took all these pills at one time?" I thought.
At that moment, it didn't seem like such a bad idea. Then I started to cry, thinking about my children and the fact that I just didn't want to suffer anymore. Right then I heard someone knocking at my door. The knocking kept going on and on. Finally I had to get up to answer the door.
There was Anna. I started to cry. God had sent her to me. She had saved my life.
Anna checked on me three times a day after that. She made sure I showed up for counseling. She really helped me. After a while, I began to handle my pain better, and I began to feel better mentally, too. Even after Anna stopped coming to see me because she had taken another job out of town, I could tell I was getting better. I started to think that maybe I did have a future. I still wasn't able to go back to work, but I was able to do more and more for myself and my children, and more chores around the house.
It was one of those chores that changed the course of my life.
I had gone outside to throw the trash away, and I heard something moving in the Dumpster. When I peered over the edge, I saw a little boy from a nearby apartment in there. He was digging around in that garbage looking for something to eat. I had never seen anything like that in my life.
I got him out of the Dumpster and took the piece of dirty bread he had found out of his hand and threw it away. Then he started to cry, and I realized he wanted that bread because he was hungry. So I took him into my apartment and I made him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Then I sent him home.
I was still thinking about that poor little boy about fifteen minutes later when someone knocked on my door. When I went to open it, I saw six five-year-olds standing there.
"Is it true you're giving peanut butter sandwiches away?" one of the little boys asked me.
"No, I'm not," I said. "But if you're hungry, come on in. I'll feed you."
So I fixed them all peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and I sent them all home. The next day I had thirteen hungry kids at my door. And I made some more sandwiches.
Then I started asking some questions. I asked people why there were so many hungry children in our neighborhood. And they explained that these children got free lunches at school. But this was June and school was out, and so they didn't have anyone to give them lunch. Their parents worked, and they had to wait until their parents came back at night to eat.
I couldn't imagine it. I had worked so hard to provide for my own kids. And I was still trying hard to provide—by this time I was on disability insurance. I realized that I had been so busy taking care of my own five children that I hadn't noticed the needs of the other children right around me.
I picked up the phone. I called the social service agency where Anna had worked. And then I called my church. I told everyone what was happening to these children. I told them I wanted to help, but I couldn't do it alone.
Did I ever get help! I had so much peanut butter and jelly and bread delivered to my apartment that I still have a jar of peanut butter from that first donation—and that was eight years ago. With that food, I made some sandwiches and I made some Kool Aid and I started feeding the neighborhood children from out of my apartment.
We had so much fun that summer. We watched movies, we talked about God, we played games. I tried to teach them about cleanliness. A lot of the children had head lice, so I tried to clean their hair and get rid of the lice.
The kids came every day the whole summer, and we spent all day doing things together. I just fell in love with these children. They were so nice, but so poor. And they were just completely unattended. No one was taking care of them.
At the end of the summer, when it was time for school to start, the kids were sad. And so was I. Helping these kids had given me a reason to live.
My apartment felt so empty and quiet that first day of school—much too quiet. But that afternoon, there was a knock on the door. And when I opened it, a few of the kids were standing there.
"Bea, we need help with our schoolwork," they said. "Will you help us with math? With you help us with reading?"
"Of course I will," I told them, my eyes filled with tears. "Come on in." I was just so glad they were back.
I believe God called me to do this work. God needed someone to look after these kids—and that someone was me. When God calls you to do something, you don't fight that. You go with it.
So in 1990, I formally established a nonprofit organization called Bea's Kids. I went to the management of my building to ask for help, and they gave me an empty one-bedroom apartment where I could take care of thirty kids after school. Within one month, I had sixty kids. So the management gave me a two-bedroom apartment. And that's where my volunteers and I have been taking caring of our children for the past eight years.
Our whole community is involved now. We have volunteers help us from local schools and businesses. People in the community donate thousands of dollars worth of used items, and we sell them once a year in a gigantic garage sale. We use the money to buy school supplies, shoes, socks, and underwear. Twice a year, at Christmas and when school starts, we buy everyone new shoes. Eight years ago, these children didn't have socks and underwear. But now they don't have to worry about that. They didn't have pens or pencils or paper—but now they do. Someone even donated a computer for them to use.
I feel like these children are all my own. And I'm so proud of them. They are doing so well. These children know what is expected of them when they come into our program, and they know how important they are to us. Our kids are not on drugs. And our girls are not pregnant. They have a clear direction in life. I even have a group of kids graduating from high school this year, kids who have been with me for eight years. Some of them are even going on to college.
I am so blessed. These children are the reason I'm here now. That's why I'm living—to help them. Even when I have days when I can barely walk because of my injuries, I get up and get going because I know my kids need me. They give me a purpose. In fact, they've given me much more than I've ever given them.
I know now that this is why God saved my life. This is why he sent Anna to knock on my door that day just when I was thinking about swallowing a whole bottle of pills. He saved my life because He needs me to take care of these children.
There are so many children who need help everywhere. And there are people in apartment complexes everywhere who could help. I tell people, Open your doors, open your hearts. Help a child with their math homework. Help them with their reading. Just love them. No one is tending to the children any more. And we need to. They need us.
I've learned a wonderful lesson from these kids—a lesson I will never forget. I've learned that the only truly happy people are those who have found a way to be useful.
Join Bea in her effort to make today's children tomorrow's leaders. Contact: Bea's Kids, 1517 Metrocrest #129, Carrollton, Texas 75006. Tel: 972-417-9061. Web site: www.princeofpeace.org/beaskids.htm. In Canada, contact the United Way of Regina, 2022 Halifax Street, Regina, SK S4P IT7. Tel: 306-757-5671.
On November 14, 1992, my sixteen-year-old son, David, was with his friends at a school dance. I went to a movie with my twelve-year-old daughter Kristy and one of her friends. We asked David to come with us, but he said the dance sounded like more fun. And I really couldn't blame him. Later that night, he called home to ask if he could spend the night at his friend's house after the dance. My husband, Steve, and I said sure.
We didn't know David would never come home again.
Kristy and I just couldn't fall asleep that night. We kept tossing and turning, dozing for a minute and then waking up. Then all of a sudden, I saw an enormous, bright white light in front of my face, and I sat up in bed and yelled, "David!"
I had no idea what was happening at the time. I didn't know what I was seeing, or why I was screaming out David's name. I thought it was just a bad dream. But ten minutes after that bright light woke me, the police called to say David had been in a car accident.
The light I had seen was the light David saw as a car came directly toward him. I truly believe that. That's how strong the bond is between a mother and child.
When we got to the hospital, the police told us what had happened. David and his friend had gone for a walk. They were trying to cross a busy street in the pitch dark. David accidentally stepped off the curb directly into the path of an oncoming car. There was no way for the driver to avoid him.
We were allowed to see David for just one brief minute, and then they took him by helicopter to a nearby major medical center. It took us thirty minutes to drive there—probably the longest thirty minutes of my life.
When we got there, two doctors met us and started discussing David's injuries. They told us he might lose his leg, and I was OK with that. They told us he might have some brain damage, and I was OK with that, too. I just wanted him to live. But then they started talking about how his brain was swelling and there was a chance he wasn't going to make it.
And that's when they asked us if we would consider organ donation.
"Yes," we said.
That was our answer, our total answer. We didn't need any time to ask questions or discuss any issues because we had already discussed it as a family a few months earlier. We had been aware of the need for organ donors because Kristy has diabetes. And although she wasn't in need of a transplant herself, we decided as a family that we would donate our organs if the need arose.
At the time of that discussion, of course, we all thought we were talking about the possibility of Steve or I becoming a donor. Never the children.
We only had David with us for two days after that. We sat with him while we waited for the swelling to go down, while we waited for him to show signs of life. But over those two days, his body just shut down. We had already signed the necessary papers, so when his brain was no longer alive, the doctors harvested every single part of him that anyone could possibly use. That's what we told them to do.
Initially, the fact that we had donated David's organs was of no comfort to us whatsoever. All we knew was that we had lost our David—our Deedle, our D. J.—one of the sweetest souls to ever hit this earth. We cried and we screamed, then we cried and screamed some more. Nothing we did, and nothing we thought, could help us make sense of such a tragedy.
David was such a special boy. Everyone loved him. He was the kind of guy who was always going out of his way to help other people. If there was an activity at school, David was the one who volunteered to help clean up afterward. If the neighbors' lawns needing mowing, David was the one who showed up to do it—at no charge. If a friend needed him, he was there.
David loved music and swimming and laughing and movies and fishing and taking long walks in the woods. But I think his two favorite loves were cooking and The Three Stooges. That boy could just cook up a storm. He had a natural talent for it. He loved to see the pleasure on people's faces as they tasted the foods he had prepared. And he also loved to laugh. Maybe his laugh is what we missed the most.
About a month after his death, we received a letter from the New England Organ Bank. They gave us some general information about the people who had received David's organs. His corneas, kidneys, liver, pancreas, and heart had all been transplanted. I was mostly intrigued about his heart. We were told the recipient was a forty-one-year-old retired police officer with two sons, ages eleven and thirteen. We knew that whoever got David's heart would be especially lucky, because this was a boy with a wonderful heart.
We went through the next many months just going through the motions. We had good days and bad days, but mostly bad. I broke my back in a fall and missed a lot of work. Eventually, I was laid off. At my doctor's suggestion, I started exercising again, which I had not been doing since David's death. I started going to the gym a few times a week and I kept it up.
About two years later, Steve and I got a letter from David's heart recipient, sent to us through the organ bank. He had written to thank us. He could only tell us his first name, Jim, because organ banks have rules about protecting privacy. And we wrote him back, through the organ bank, telling him about ourselves and David, and how much his note meant to us. After corresponding like that for a while, we decided we wanted to meet. The organ bank said they would check on the protocol about that and get back to us.
Excerpted from The Courage to Give by JACKIE WALDMAN, JANIS LEIBS DWORKIS. Copyright © 2000 Jackie Waldman. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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