We had just gotten out of church this morning and I was waiting for everyone to get buckled in when I got the message. It was from Michelle from Jefferson Middle School. She was one of the first persons to reach out to me when we shared the story about DeMarkel, the 13-year-old boy who had been recently diagnosed with cancer and lost his leg. “If you could let me know what specifically they need or would like, we can make this happen,” she confidently wrote.
DeMarkel was doing everything in his power to get discharged from the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, but he needed help from our community. In just a few short days, volunteers were assembled to build an accessible wheelchair ramp for a young man they would never meet. Gifts for the family began to pour in.
Michelle’s message to me today was an update as to what the team at Jefferson was able to do for DeMarkel and his mom. They raised nearly $700 and showered the family with gifts on the Friday before Christmas. Michelle went on to tell me that on Christmas morning DeMarkel began to struggle with his breathing and had to be taken to Iowa City. The 13-year-old that aspired to be a mechanic passed away a day later.
My heart sank. I remembered the hug that his mom gave me after we finished the ramp. It was one of those kind of hugs that you never forget. She held me tight and said thank you in a way that is rarely expressed with such sincerity. She couldn’t understand why people she didn’t know would do so much for a single black woman and her son living downtown on Jackson Street.
Sitting here now I find myself rereading the last sentence of Michelle’s message. “Our Jefferson family is grieving, but we are so fortunate that we had the opportunity to provide DeMarkel and his mom the gift of knowing how much the Jefferson family cared about them.”
The gift that Michelle wrote about is exactly the reason why DeMarkel’s mom held me so tight in her kitchen that afternoon. Over and over again she said it when I was on the phone with her while they were still in Iowa City. “I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. Why would so many people care?” Our community was making a lasting impact on that family well before the first nail was hammered or the first Christmas gift was delivered. She will never forget what so many have done for her family.
When we finished the ramp, Shawn asked me to help him carry a couple of gifts for DeMarkel into the house. They were beautifully wrapped and ridiculously heavy. Shawn got wind of the fact that DeMarkel wanted to be a mechanic when he grew up and went out and purchased an entire tool set for him. I can only imagine the excitement he must have felt opening up those gifts on Christmas morning.
Imagine though how he and his mom must have felt that Christmas morning surrounded by gifts from complete strangers. They undoubtedly felt the outpouring of love from our entire community. DeMarkel felt like someone believed in him. Someone out there wanted to see him succeed and an entire community was hell-bent on making sure that happened.
There is no greater gift.
At the end of the day we all want to get involved and make a difference. Sometimes though we over think it. It’s not about curing a life threatening disease or helping someone off the ledge. To make the greatest impact we must simply be present for one another and be ready to step up to do what we can when needed. Each of us have extraordinary gifts to share with one another. Identify what they are and share them with the world. Because believe me, if you do, you will do more than make a difference.
You will change the world.